‘Just as beautiful’
It took three days for Sabrina and Bill Kavanaugh to persuade police and Child Protective Services workers that they had adopted Lauren at birth but lost her on a technicality.
Emily Owens, a special investigator for the Dallas County District Attorney’s office, met them in a downtown hotel. She brought heartbreaking photos of Lauren in the hospital: skeletal, broken teeth, sunken eyes.
“Listen, before I show you the photos,” Owens warned, “I want you to know she’s not going to look like the chubby toddler you remember.”
Bill Kavanaugh flipped through the images and his eyes filled with tears.
“She’s just as beautiful as the first day I saw her,” he said.
Sabrina Kavanaugh paced and cussed.
“She went back and forth from crying and disbelief to wanting to kill both of them and castrate Kenny,” said Owens. “And she just kept saying, ‘I want my baby. I want my baby. I want my baby.’”
The next morning, Sabrina and Bill Kavanaugh got off the elevator on the fifth floor of Children’s Medical Center Dallas. A nurse walked them to a playroom, where some children were running around and others were sprawled on the floor with puzzles.
“She was in there with a bunch of little kids, but we knew who she was right off,” Sabrina Kavanaugh said. “She was little bitty. Oh my God, you wouldn’t believe her little arms and legs. They were no bigger than a pencil. She was real white and she had an IV pole.”
The Kavanaughs ached inside as they watched Lauren struggle to her feet and shuffle off to the bathroom like an old woman.
Day after day for about a week, the Kavanaughs watched Lauren from afar — usually craning to see through a little porthole on a swinging door into the playroom.
Then one afternoon, Lauren’s pediatrician, Dr. Susan Scott, and CPS caseworker Kim Higgins decided it was time for the emotional reintroduction.
Lauren could only eat small meals — six or so a day
Doctors and nurses always fed Lauren alone, at a little red picnic table set up in a side hallway, because she was terrified someone would take her food.
The group waited until she finished her lunch, then walked to Lauren’s table.
“This is Sabrina and Bill Kavanaugh,” Scott said. “Do you mind if we sit down?”
Lauren looked up at Scott and asked, “Is this my new mom and dad?”
The Kavanaughs caught their breath.
“You couldn’t cry because it would scare her,” Sabrina Kavanaugh said. “They said that she remembered something about the two years we had her, and that’s why she knew us.
“Nobody had told her about having new parents. None of the doctors or nurses had introduced that fact.”