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Revisiting Shelby’s Report On ‘The Iron Crib’

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Vasilica Fritz, Iron Crib, Don Shelby Reports, Romania, orphan

Vasilica Fritz, 24, was an orphan in Romania, seldom let out of her crib. Ken and Nancy Fritz of Cottage Grove, Minn. saw her on a story done by WCCO-TV’s Don Shelby, and knew they had to adopt her. (credit: CBS)

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By Don Shelby, WCCO-TV

(WCCO) — Of all the stories WCCO-TV Anchor Don Shelby has ever done, there is one that stands out above the rest. It stands out because if WCCO hadn’t done the story, thousands of lives would never have been changed for the better. It was the story of Romanian orphans. It was 20 years ago. It was called “The Iron Crib.”

“Three hundred forty infants are housed here. They seldom if ever leave their iron cribs. So emotionally deprived are these children the nurses tell us that they rock in their cribs as the only form of stimulation,” Shelby said in the original report.

Looking back on that report today, Shelby said it’s still shocking to see what those children went through.

“It had never occurred to me, until that moment, that children could be treated so badly,” he said.

In 1990 all over Romania, there were hundreds of orphanages filled with thousands of orphans.

There are more than 40,000 orphans in Romania crowded into unsanitary and primitive complexes and Ceausescu is the father of the problem.

Nicolae Ceausescu wanted a bigger population. So while he was dictator of Romania, no family was allowed contraception until they’d had at least four children. Abortion was forbidden.

But in 1989, the people revolted and executed Ceausescu and his wife.

The poverty he had created forced families to give up children they could not afford to raise. Some of the babies contracted AIDS because Ceausescu, mistakenly thinking it would prolong their lives, ordered blood transfusions with unscreened blood.

WCCO traveled to the town of Cernavoda and opened the door on an unimaginable world.

The children who do not have AIDS are kept in a separate room. But the conditions are the same, perhaps worse. There is no mother’s touch. With so many to care for, the nurses’ attention is hardly affection.

One child in particular caught our eye. The child with the mouth filled to bursting also caught the eye of a couple in Cottage Grove, Minnesota.

“I had to rescue that one child,” said Nancy Fritz. “I don’t know what it was, but I had to do it.”

When Nancy and Ken Fritz saw the story, they took a photo right off the TV screen. And with nothing but that photo and the name of a town, went to Romania.

“We focused on the one child,” said Ken. “We thought it was a 2-year-old boy. We went back to the orphanage and showed some of the child care takers there the picture. They really didn’t know which one it could be. They thought it might be on the third floor, and the third floor was all the AIDS patients.”

The child wasn’t there. Finally on another floor, Ken found a little girl named Vasilica who matched the photo.

“I knew I found the piece of the puzzle I was looking for, the needle in the haystack. And then it all began,” he said.

Began with adopting little Vasilica from her Iron Crib in Romania into a loving home here in Minnesota.

That scared little girl is 24 years old today. The fear on her face has been replaced by the brightest of smiles.

“When you see that little girl in the orphanage, and you look in the mirror and see yourself today, are you happy?” asked Shelby.

“Yes,” said Vasilica Fritz, with a big smile.

But when she was younger, the Fritz’s wanted Lica to have a sister. They knew she had one living with a grandmother over in Romania. But when Ken went to get her, the news was not good.

“And he asked the grandmother where she was,” said Nancy, “and she said the mother had come back and sold her for a pair of earrings.”

“Sold her?” asked Shelby.

“Sold her into prostitution,” Nancy said.

That didn’t stop Ken. He returned to the same orphanage and found another girl named Roxana. The two girls are very close sisters today.

“She’s an amazing sister, she really is,” said Roxana Fritz. “She looks out for everybody. She cares for everybody.”

When Roc says everybody, she means everybody.

The Fritz family is made up of 10 children now, with three more on the way.

“There’s a lot of orphans out there,” said Ken. “They’re just looking for a mom and a dad.”

“I didn’t go to school to be an accountant,” said Nancy. “But I could do something special, I could be a mom.”

Ken and Nancy are just an average family who have opened their home and hearts to children from Romania, Ukraine and Columbia. It’s a house filled with laughs and love.

And it all started with Vasilica.

A young woman diagnosed with a form of autism that her parents were told is caused from her time in the orphanage.

Lica wanted to show WCCO the scrapbook she has been making since the day she first arrived in this country. There are pictures from grade school and soccer, playing tennis and new haircuts.

And a poem underneath her high school graduation photo, tells the story of this Romanian orphan girl.

“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in,” said Vasilica.

You may wonder how much it costs to adopt all those kids. It’s a lot. In fact, when they returned with the kids from the Ukraine, they didn’t have a penny in their pockets.

If you’d like to help the Fritz family, you can bring or mail a donation to any Wells Fargo bank.

Make it out to:
The Fritz Family Adoption Fund.
Wells Fargo Bank
8770 E. Point Douglas Road S.
Cottage Grove, MN 55016
651-205-6602

If you’d like more information on adoption, you can contact:

Crossroads Adoption Services
Website: www.crossroadsadoption.com
Phone: 952.831.5707
Email: jill@crossroadsadoption.com

Joan Gilbertson, Producer
Contact Joan

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