Dani was so severely neglected by her birth mother that she grew up knowing only squalor. She never went to school or the doctor, and rarely glimpsed sunlight. Desperately malnourished, she couldn’t talk and had never been toilet-trained. The social worker who took her into care had never heard of a case so horrific. The doctors believed Dani would never recover from such a terrible start in life.

Dani's Story by Diane Lierow, Bernie Lierow

Dani's Story by Diane Lierow, Bernie Lierow

Then she met the Lierows – a unique, blended family who were seeking to adopt a child. Despite being warned that she was way beyond hope of a normal life, they were instantly drawn to her and sensed a bright light behind her pale complexion. When they finally adopted her, they showered Dani with so much affection and encouragement that she came to life for the first time. Proving all the experts wrong, Dani would go on to open up and express herself in a way that no-one could have expected.

Considering the enormity of this heart wrenching true story, I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I hadn’t heard of Dani Lierow’s story before I received the book from Penguin a short while ago and I have to confess I was not only astonished at what I read but frankly disgusted that there are parents in the world today capable of such gross neglect. Dani’s Story is a tale of one girl’s continuing fight to eradicate her abhorrent memories at the hand of her birth mother – I use the term mother only because it’s factual and certainly not deserved – and the inexhaustible love and support shown by the Lierows to counteract and repair the inevitable damage done in her infancy.

This is without question an inspirational story and although the Lierows had no desire for public adulation when they began the quest to adopt a child, they now find themselves in a situation following Dani’s adoption where they can bring so much attention to not only like-minded parents – for there are many – but publicity for an adoption and fostering system that still has problems at the grass roots level and beyond.

Very well written, the narrative flows unhindered and despite the harrowing imagery faced in the early chapters the book is an incredibly quick and rewarding read. In fact I couldn’t put it down, for the further you read, the more I felt an affinity with the family and the more I wondered how could one family have so much love to give. Incredible.

I’m not going to spend much time talking about the conditions Dani “lived in” – and I use the term loosely – with her birth mother and brother for I could certainly not capture the truly horrific conditions she faced on a daily basis, the book will and does a far better job. Cockroaches – both alive and dead – were in abundance, animal faeces, human faeces, soiled diapers and pure neglect. Combining this with malnourishment, self-harming, insect bites and a lack of sunlight it’s frankly amazing Dani survived her traumatic infancy and gain a second chance at life.  The one thing I found disturbing, perhaps more than any other, was the ineptitude shown by the DCF (Department of Children and Families) who failed to see that these conditions were life threatening and damaging to a young girl starved of human compassion and love; not once, not twice but three times during a gap of three years. Had it not been for the initial actions of Detective Holste who carried Dani out of the deplorable conditions – and the support given by Garet White – who knows what would have happened.

Timing is everything

Throughout the book I kept coming back to the same question “How can a mother act like this?” It’s incredibly hard to shake off a feeling of anger and resentment, but the more I read, the more I was drawn in by the limitless love and priceless devotion shown by the Lierows. It goes without saying that Bernie and Diane, as parents, are champions but for me it was little Willie, or William as he now prefers, who was a shining beacon in all this. For someone so young he shows so much maturity and understanding of a situation most adults would find it hard to comprehend. He doesn’t complain, he adapts and adjusts and shows an incredibly amount of love and understanding to what is for all intents and purposes a relative stranger. The family as a whole, on meeting Dani, fell in love with her from the outset but the consideration shown by Bernie and Diane to their natural children is a credit.

Having said all that, this book is incredibly uplifting. Slowly but surely things start to change and Dani settles down with her new family. It’s a daily fight and one that will continue for years to come no doubt, but there is hope and proof aplenty that, despite initial fears from the medical fraternity Dani is reacting to the love and attention she was born to receive and long may it continue. A remarkable story that offers so much hope and unquestionably instils a faith in humanity that is sometimes lacking.

For further information and to see Dani’s progress please visit her website www.danisstory.org and if you suspect a child is being abused www.thechildabusehotline.com offers support and guidance. Fostering and Adoption – www.heartgalleryofamerica.org and in the UK http://www.adoptionuk.org/

Published by Penguin Dani’s Story is available in both paperback and Kindle

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