When Amgen regional sales director David Henze agreed his family would host a child named Dmitrijs from a Latvian orphanage in the summer of 2018, he had no idea the profound and lasting impact the decision would make on his family—and to his own understanding of what it means to be a father.
Henze and his wife already had four sons (currently aged 23, 21, 18 and 13) and the request to host Dmitrijs came from an agency that said he was seeking an experience with brothers because he had four sisters. “My wife was reading the email request that came from a friend at our boys' school, and I said, ‘we could do that—we could give a young boy an experience with brothers pretty easily,’” he recalls. “Dmitrijs came and spent six weeks with us. It was a lovely experience, but the idea of adoption never crossed our minds.”
A year later, a family in Alabama that hosted Dmitrijs and his four sisters over the summer asked if the Henzes would consider having all five kids for the Christmas holiday. “They wound up spending three and a half weeks here, including Christmas of 2019 and the New Year’s holiday going into 2020,” Henze says. “Our boys were generous hosts, and we had a very full and fun time together.”
At the time, the Latvian children were 14, 13, 11, 9 and 8 and had been orphans for most of their lives, having lost their parents to substance abuse and domestic violence. “They were all well cared for in the orphanage, with every material thing they needed and great educations,” Henze says. “What they lacked was a sense of what genuine trust and unconditional love look like.”
Workplace flexibility, benefits, play a part
The Henzes filed their initial adoption application “just in case” because the Latvian government was about to end its international adoption program, but when the COVID-19 pandemic came, Henze and his wife had more time to consider adoption, and the workplace flexibility Amgen provided allowed them to learn more about the process. “We also found that Amgen offers financial support for adoption services, which helped ease some of our concerns about the expense,” he adds.
It was April 2020 when the Henzes began to file the large amounts of paperwork required to move forward, which took about a year to complete. “We finally went to Latvia in May of 2021 and spent four weeks in the country,” Henze says. “Thanks to Amgen’s flexible work approach, I was able to continue working while we were there. In fact, I was able to hire an entire new sales team from Latvia, working during the night there while it was daytime here.”
“Thanks to that flexibility, we had an amazing time experiencing their culture and being with the children in their home country,” Henze adds. “Then they all came home with us on the Saturday before Father’s Day. It was such a magical experience to spend Father’s Day at a table surrounded by nine children—it felt full but complete.”
While they were gone, the Henze’s close-knit neighborhood in the Chicago area sprang into action, helping to redesign his home office space and pitching in to buy a new sectional sofa so that all 11 of them could sit together to watch movies.
A bittersweet journey
After nine months with all nine children under one roof, the three older kids said they wanted to return to their home country. “In Latvia, any child over 12 is deemed old enough to make their own decision about being adopted, and ultimately the three older children missed the life they knew and went back to Latvia.” Henze says. He accompanied them on their return.
“On April 4 of this year, however, the younger two girls, Julija and Alisa, were officially adopted and became part of our family,” Henze says. “Of course, we keep in touch with their siblings, and they will always have a home here if they wish.”
Just before Father’s Day 2022, Henze received another emotional gift, when he traveled to Latvia yet again, this time with their new daughters to finalize the adoption and secure their U.S. citizenship. In an email from Latvia, Henze described how the orphanage village where the older children live is now hosting mothers and children who are refugees from the war in Ukraine. “Each family house of children has a few more in each room, so life for our three older Latvians is a bit more hectic, but they are doing well,” he says. “Latvia stands in strong loyalty with Ukraine, as they too were once a communist controlled nation, and have several Ukrainian flags flying in the Latvian capital city of Riga.”
“As I write this, we are departing back to America, and when the plane lands on U.S. soil, Julija and Alisa will be Henzes and proud U.S. and Latvian citizens,” he adds. “As of now, the two newest members of our household are incredibly joyful, and they love having big brothers and being part of a permanent family—they have captured the hearts and imaginations of our entire community.”