NEENAH, Wis. — Tess wasn't supposed to live for more than a year.
She endured heart surgery and a thymus transplant as an infant. She had no immune system when she was born and spent the first months of her life in isolation with her adopted parents.
"She's not supposed to be alive," said Mindi Piasecki, Tess' adopted mother. "She's not supposed to be walking."
That didn't seem to matter to Tess, who is now an energetic 3-year-old, as she ran around her adopted parents' home in Neenah on a recent June afternoon.
Mindi Piasecki, 50, and her husband, Mark Piasecki, 47, had already endured three miscarriages and multiple failed adoptions when they adopted Tess in 2015. Tess' fate remained unclear for months until her transplant — meant to build her immune system — was deemed a success.
Tess still lives with a number of medical complications. She uses a feeding tube and is deaf in her left ear. She has partial hearing in her right ear, but the family is also learning sign language.
She signed a few simple words and phrases as she played on the living room floor with her adopted brother, Adam, a 1-year-old who the couple adopted about a year after her.
"Tess is a totally different person when people can communicate with her," Mindi Piasecki told the Appleton Post-Crescent . "She is so much happier."
Adam doesn't have special needs. His birth mother's aunt went to school with Mark Piasecki, and Mindi Piasecki was in the delivery room when he was born.
"I think we have really good kids," she said. "I wouldn't trade them in."
And the couple isn't done yet. They're already in the process of adopting a third child, hoping to find another with medical challenges.
"There are a lot of kids out there that need parents, and they're not all perfect," she said. "No one is perfect."
The adoption process is long and complex, especially when a child with special needs is involved, said Angie Flannery, executive director of Adoption Choice, an adoption agency with locations in Glendale, Green Bay and Madison.
Parents often need training specific to a child's medical condition, said Flannery, who worked with the Piaseckis when they adopted Tess.
"For some families, that's not an ideal placement," she said. "Our primary goal is placing in families that will be best for the child."
The process can be extremely expensive, too. The cost of a home study — a requirement prior to any adoption — is typically between $2,000 and $3,000, Flannery said.
And that's only the beginning. The Piaseckis estimate they spent a total of about $18,000 to adopt Tess and about $25,000 to adopt Adam.
"We would probably have a much bigger house now if we hadn't adopted," Mindi Piasecki said.
This time around, the couple has had to wait for the right child to come along.
They came close to adopting a 7-year-old girl from New York with Treacher Collins syndrome, a condition that typically includes downward-slanting eyes and a very small jaw and chin, along with hearing and vision loss.
But after weeks of hoping, the Piaseckis found out the girl was going to another family. The rejection was frustrating, but they've tried their best to move on.
"I was just telling my friends that I think I might need a vacation," Mindi Piasecki said. "The ups and downs are just a lot."
The couple got a call last week about an unborn baby up for adoption in Texas who is expected to have Down syndrome and other medical issues.
They're hopeful but won't know for sure until the adoption process is complete. They don't plan on giving up, whatever happens.
"It's what we do," she said. "We're meant to do this."
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Appleton Post-Crescent.