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28 blessings: Murphy family cares for special needs children

Photo by Jeylin White
In what is certainly a well choreographed production, the Murphy kids line up for dinner at their house in Henry County.

Photo by Jeylin White In what is certainly a well choreographed production, the Murphy kids line up for dinner at their house in Henry County.

McDONOUGH — John Murphy and his wife of more than 30 years, Jeanette, not only share a long lasting love for one another, but a passion to care for children who are less fortunate than others.

The couple are proud parents of 28 special needs children, most of whom have cerebral palsy or various other physical aliments. And they love each and every one of them as if they were their own flesh and blood.

“Most of the kids were given away because their parents were either on drugs or they just could not handle the responsibility of caring for them,” Jeanette said.

Walking into the Murphy home was reminiscent of the 2003 movie “Cheaper by the Dozen,” an American comedy film about two divorcees who marry each other and face the daunting task of raising 12 rambunctious children. However, the Murphys have 17 children who can be boisterous occasionally, but for the most part they’re usually mild-tempered and well-behaved.

“They are all really great and loving children,” John said. “It can get crazy sometimes, but not too often.”

It was during the 1970s when John, a devout Catholic, and Jeanette, a hippie wanna-be, met at a home for special needs adults, fell in love and embarked on a journey to change and improve the lives of children who were discarded due to their special needs.

“We saw that the children were not being taught properly and we wanted to teach them to be self-sufficient,” said the frail, brown-haired woman.

“Most importantly, we wanted to show them love and compassion,” added John.

The duo said they had always had a yearning to work with special needs children. Their sentiment was if they could make such great strides with adults, teaching them basic hygiene skills and household tasks, then what more could they do to help children?

The Murphys attempted to open a foster home, renting a five-bedroom house. But after only a year, they ran out of funds and went back to working at group homes.

“We just found out we got approved for a child, we swallowed our pride, but we never gave up on our dreams,” Jeanette said. After several attempts of applying at foster homes for special needs children, Jeanette said one day she had an epiphany from God and told John, “Maybe God wants us to adopt a special needs child.”

They couple immediately got to work and visited a private adoption agency. The application process, the couple said, was challenging.

“The application included a checklist of various disabilities, mental and physical handicaps both mild and severe,” Jeanette said.

She added they were instructed to check the disabilities they felt they could handle.

“As I skimmed through them, I felt in my heart that it would be wrong to check a single box, so we left it blank,” she said. “We wanted to trust that any child sent to us was meant to be a part of our family, no matter what their disability.”

Shannon was the first child to be adopted by the couple.

“After this, we never sought out children,” she said. “We always trusted God would present to us every child who belonged in our family. Boy, did He ever!”

In three decades, the couple have four biological children — Shawn, 36, Christan, 33, Josh, 27, and Bethany, 25 — and adopted 18 more — Angela, 44, Shannon, 36, Angel, 29, Josiah, 28, Jimmy, 27, Jeremy, 27, Brandon, 27, Julia, 26, Amy, 26, Lindsey, 25, Cody, 22, Callie, 22, Noah, 20, Emily, 18, Nathan, 17, Mia, 17, Nicholas, 11 and Kristina, 10.

Except for Brandon, all the Murphys’ adoptive children suffer from acute neurological damage, Down Syndrome, and autism. Six of their adoptive kids passed away, due to medical complications. That includes Jon Boy, who they describe as their “little piglet,” who died of leukemia at 8 years old and Nikki, their golden haired blue-eye angel, who died from complications of a staph infection. She was 9 years old.

“While I can’t say that we conquered every medical and emotional challenge laid before us, with God’s help we have survived them all,” said the couple.

“I like to think that God blesses special needs children to special people and if we didn’t have them this would be a miserable world to live in,” Jeanette said.

You can follow the Murphy family on their blog at www.28blessings.blogspot.com.