Happy Story No. 5: A dream is a wish your heart makes

“I’m going to Disney World!”

There is a boy in Ukraine who loves a particular toy – Mickey Mouse. He probably has never seen Mickey Mouse on TV, but perhaps… it is Mickey who gives him hope.


Nikita’s daily routine
Photo: Justine Stojowski

When I first saw this little boy, he was quiet and less active than the other children. He sat almost like a statue. Often, he wore a sweater with cuffs that were sewn up so he couldn’t chew his hands. He was the only child with this type of sweater – he was deemed “incompetent.” He was only allowed to consume his food by sucking it through an old rubber nipple attached to a coke or beer bottle.

He was so quiet that you could easily not notice him. He was not the type of child begging for your attention. He was also so tiny, he was placed on a toddler swing and would smile. It wasn’t any smile, it was one of the most beautiful smiles I had ever seen. I was shocked to discover he was 10 years old.



Nikita on the toddler swing
Photo: Justine Stojowski

This little boy is Nikita and he has Down Syndrome.

I’m going to be selfish here and tell you why this kid is really amazing… off the charts superstar material.



The Champion






Nikita is pretty, darn cute. He’s has gorgeous, long dark eyelashes, a superstar smile, and is so huggable, you can’t help but shower him with kisses. He has a small nose, dark hair and same skin tone. Without question, he looks like me. (Told ya, I was going to be selfish.)


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Nikita and Maya – November 2012
Photo: Mariya Syemashkina

Perhaps, because I saw a resemblance between us, I felt a stronger attachment. At the same time, he was also, the total opposite of me. He was calm, quiet, so reserved, and still possessed the beauty of a great philosopher in silent meditation. We were Yin and Yang.


Photo: Justine Stojowski

Breaking his routine of doing “nothing,” I took him out with the big boys. Since he was slow and couldn’t keep up with the others, I decided to sit down and cuddle him. I rocked back and forth. He never wriggled out of my arms or made a fuss. He was happy. Then I realized, I was even happier. That’s when I fell in love.

Nikita couldn’t even say my name, but when he smiled, it was like staring into the face of an angel. He looked like pure love in a tiny package. And selfishly, I wanted to take him home. But of course, I could not.


Nikita in November 2012
Photo: Mariya Syemashkina

I returned to my corporate job thinking “why am I here? Nikita needs me. I need Nikita.” I was depressed.

Then the worst news arrived in my inbox at work. “Nikita is going to die.”

“What?!?!?” was then followed by a bunch of obscenities and questions as to how this could happen.

“He has a weak heart. He needs an operation. If he has the operation, he may die. If he doesn’t have the operation, he may die.” This was November 2012. This could not be real. This kid needs a miracle.

I contacted an organization in Israel specializing in heart surgeries for orphans. I was so determined I even had the email translated into Hebrew.) I then contacted doctors in Texas. They requested that specific tests be done on Nikita to make sure that he was properly evaluated.

He had typical congenital heart defects from having Down Syndrome. It was just a matter of time.

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Photo: Mariya Syemashkina

Clock was ticking, and I was running out of options. What on earth do I do? I prayed for a miracle. I kept a picture of Nikita on my phone and just kept thinking how do I get this kid surgery. Then one day, I got an email.

“I have someone interested in adopting Nikita.”

My mouth dropped. This couldn’t be.

Whatever questions, concerns, worries Monica had, I answered. If I didn’t know, I looked for the answer. Monica was “Nikita’s Hope.”

NIkitas first mickey

Nikita’s first Mickey Mouse, August 2013
Photo: Mariya Syemashkina

Nikita august 2013

Nikita modeling Mickey, August 2013
Photo: Mariya Syemashkina

“Can you get a Mickey Mouse shirt and send to Nikita?” she asked. I went to the Disney Store in Times Square (even if I hate the crowds) to get Nikita his shirt. (Nikita looked of course darling in his shirt.)

Months later, a message arrived: “We’re approved to adopt Nikita.”

I couldn’t believe it. I was thinking, out of all the children at Kalinovka, how on earth did Nikita get chosen? I started to get nervous… is this too good to be true?

Finally, I flew off to Ukraine in beginning of November and the first little guy I wanted to see was Nikita. I called out his name and hugged him. He happily greeted my hug with a smile and we bonded like time and distance never separated us. I noticed he still loved music and Mickey Mouse.

Then finally, before I left, I gave him a big hug and kiss and knew that it was the last time we would meet at Kalinovka.

I was just thankful he was still alive and defied what doctors expected. And then as the dream would be… Nikita finally did get his wish.

On Thanksgiving he met his mother Monica and his father Ricky who would take Nikita away and love him forever.


Monica, Richard and Nikita
Photo: Richard and Monica Sotolongo

They say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

Nikita’s dream is a wish his heart makes. If it wasn’t for his weak heart, he wouldn’t have found a family. And now he is moving to Florida, where he can see Mickey at Disney World.

Nikita arrived in Florida on December 10th, 2013. And he high-five-d Mickey. He’s home.


NIkita’s best friend at Kalinovka


High Five
Credit: Richard Sotolongo











Nikita’s arrival in Orlando



Nikita is the fourth child adopted from Kalinovka since 2012.


Children adopted from Kalinovka

Sasha adopted January 2012 by Shane and Cassidy Robertson.


Sasha, adopted in 2012


Logan adopted 2012



Bogdan, adopted November 2013

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Samuel (Sasha) adopted November 2013



Bogdan and Samuel were adopted by Shane and Cassidy Robertson. They had adopted Sasha (see above) from Kalinovka in 2009. This is their second adoption from Kalinovka. They started the trend!

Currently, there are 9 children in the Happy Home and there are 37 bedridden children at Kalinovka. Maya’s Hope has hired 5 caregivers, 1 massage therapist, and 1 caregiver for children who were recently transferred from Kalinovka. The caregivers provide loving care to these kids to make sure that they are taken cared of. Most of these children are available for adoption, but for those who are not, will remain in this institution until they are transferred or age out.


Our goal is to take care of these children as if they are our very own… until a family finds them and gives them all the love in the world they deserve.


guardian angel

Guardian Angel

If you would like to be a Guardian Angel, you can start here!

The Second Happy Home will be finished in January 2014. We must find Guardian Angels like you to make sure these little girls will get proper loving care. Click HERE to see the Second Happy Home.


Check out our other Happy Stories!