HOUSTON—Houston’s "Miracle Baby," who survived brutal and nearly deadly abuse at just 6 months old, is now 8 years old. She and her sister became two of the roughly 4,600 foster children in Texas adopted each year into loving homes.
In 2005, Autumn had nearly all her major bones broken, suffered organ and brain damage, and nearly had her tongue severed. Still, she defied the medical prognosis and survived. Her big sister, Madison, had skull fractures and a broken leg. Their birth father, Ivan Casteneda, is serving a life sentence for the abuse. Their birth mother, Donna Norman, was paroled in February.
How different life is today. The girls gave KHOU 11 News a tour of their closet, carpeted with little girl shoes and packed with clothes for the start of third grade next month.
Madison pulled out a top and smiled, saying, "This is diva stuff!"
She is bright and chatty. Autumn is sweet—but struggling at times, because of her injuries. She said reading and homework are "Just too hard." But she already knows what she wants to be when she grows up.
"I’m going be a police," she said.
Foster parents Zenia and Chris Ledezma became the girls’ adoptive parents. Long ago, they decided there would be no secrets.
"Autumn is like ‘Why does Madison always finish her homework before me? Why does she do this? Why can’t I? Why am I this way?’ and I don’t have answer for you except the truth," Zenia said.
As heart-stopping and painful as that truth is, the Ledezmas face it full on.
Fighting back tears, Zenia remembered Autumn saying, "Mom, they cut my tongue."
"I said ‘It’s ok you’re still pretty, you’re still beautiful.’ She just smiles and gives me a hug. Whatever I say, it’s OK."
"So we kept documents. We kept everything so the day they really want to know you know, I’m gonna show them. I don’t want them to say you lied to us all this time," she said. "I want them to grow up and I want them to say you know what that was then, this is me now, because that is how they win."
The two sisters have learned to manage life’s often unfair challenges together. As they play a new game, Madison naturally, seamlessly steps into help Autumn.
"Autumn it’s like this. It’s complicated, but we use our mind. We’re smart so it’s OK for us," she said.
Love is how the two girls win.