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Woman, adopted daughter have genetic bond

Associated Press • Jul 29, 2013 at 1:00 PM

They might not be related by blood, but this mother and daughter still share a strong genetic bond.

A local genetics doctor who has become a national expert and advocate for a chromosomal disorder she knows about firsthand has adopted a young girl from China with the same condition.

Dr. Catherine Melver, a geneticist at Akron Children's Hospital and past president of the Turner Syndrome Society of the United States, took her daughter, Zoe, to the group's annual convention in Dallas recently to meet others from across the country who share their diagnosis.

For the society, Zoe's arrival was cause for celebration.

An email to the nonprofit group from Zoe's foster mother in China seeking information about Turner syndrome led to the 4-year-old girl eventually finding a home in Akron with Melver and her husband, Kevin.

"This little girl, she basically won the lottery, in a sense," said Cindy Scurlock, the society's executive director. "Catherine is great. She's definitely an excellent doctor. She knows everything about Turner syndrome because she has it."

From a young age, Melver heard from her parents that there are many different ways to have a family.

She later learned they were preparing her to cope with the infertility issues that accompany Turner syndrome, a chromosomal condition that affects about one in every 2,000 to 2,500 girls and women.

Melver, 40, was diagnosed at age 7 with Turner syndrome after her doctor became suspicious about her lack of growth and recommended testing to find out the reason.

Females with the syndrome are missing all or part of their second sex chromosome. Though every patient differs, the majority of Turner syndrome patients are less than 5 feet tall and unable to conceive a baby without special medical treatments because of ovarian failure.

Other features can include arms that turn out slightly at the elbow, webbing of the neck, low hairline in the back, a narrow and high-arched palate, broad chest and narrow fingernails and toenails that point upward, as well as an increased risk for heart and other medical problems.

When they married in 2008, the Melvers agreed adoption would be their choice for starting a family.

In 2010, the couple was licensed with Summit County as foster parents, with plans to adopt.

The following summer, Melver got an email from the Turner syndrome society about a toddler girl in a foster home in China with the condition.

"We were fostering, so we were in the right spot," Melver's husband said.

The couple agreed to pursue adoption of the little girl and began the in-depth process of filling out the paperwork and completing a home study to move forward.

"It's a long process of putting together all kinds of documentation," she said.

As part of the review, Melver had to answer questions about whether she was familiar with Zoe's medical condition.

"Yeah," Melver said with a laugh, "I give talks to the national society about this."

In November, the Melvers traveled to China to bring their daughter home.

"That was definitely emotional," Melver recalled.

Zoe, who was with an English-speaking foster family in China, has adapted well to her new home, her parents said. She enjoys preschool and loves to play instruments, especially drums she received last month for her birthday.

"She's a very content, happy little kid," her father said.

The Turner syndrome society holds a recognition at each annual convention for patients who have added a child to their family, either through adoption or medical intervention.

"It's such a positive thing," Scurlock said. ". It shows that everything is possible. It's such a milestone."

Melver said she thinks it will be helpful for Zoe as she grows up — especially during her teen years — to know others with Turner syndrome. The doctor never met another female with the condition until she was in medical school.

"I think about what that would have meant to me at that age," she said.

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