One dad, nine lives: Father, family find support at Michigan Medicine

June 14, 2018  //  FOUND IN: News,

Erik, Sandy, and their children in a photo taken near their home in Brighton.

With four biological children and five more who are adopted, dinnertime at the Kreps household is a little crowded. As are family outings to the park, trips to see the sights in Detroit or even just a board game night at home.

But father Erik, a financial specialist at the U-M Survey Research Center, and his wife Sandy wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The biggest blessing in our life is our family,” Erik said. “And there are so many kids out there who don’t get that joy. So we thought we could change that and make a difference for just a few of them through the adoption process.”

That’s not to say raising nine kids between the ages of 5 and 21 is easy.

“It’s incredibly tiring,” Erik said with a laugh. “But it is rewarding. I just try and be the best dad I can be and give them all the support and love that I can. And in return, I get the joy of watching kids blossom before my eyes.”

Giving children ‘the attention they deserve’

Three of the Kreps’ adopted children, Bryan, Darren and Henry, were born in China and face physical challenges.

Bryan has an undiagnosed neuromuscular disorder, which is suspected to be polio. He now uses a walker or a wheelchair for mobility. Darren was adopted with a history of heart ailments, while Henry — the family’s youngest at 5 years old — was born with limb differences, missing two hands and a foot.

“It was so important for Sandy and me to be able to provide these kids with a great experience at home, while also knowing they will get incredible care whenever they need it,” Erik said. “With a hospital system like this just down the road, we never hesitated to adopt children with specialized needs — we knew they’d get all the attention they deserve.”

Darren, for instance, has had two open heart surgeries at Michigan Medicine and continues to have follow-up visits every six months. With Bryan and Henry also making frequent visits, in addition to their other kids coming in for more “routine” appointments, Erik and his family are a familiar sight at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

“I can’t tell you the number of times staff members have recognized me, and then look down and see me with a new kid,” Erik said. “And believe me, they’re a lot more excited to see the children than me!”

Bryan, Erik and Henry after a recent UMAISE basketball practice.

One lucky dad

Michigan Medicine’s influence on the Kreps family is felt beyond the kids’ health care. Bryan and Henry both play on the first-ever wheelchair basketball team at Mott.

“We wanted to give our kids a physical outlet, which basketball obviously provides,” Erik said. “But we also realized that playing with children who are going through similar circumstances would give the two of them a social and emotional outlet, as well.”

Erik said the program has been incredibly rewarding.

“We’ve only had Henry for about nine months now, and basketball practice is the only place he feels comfortable leaving my side or Sandy’s side,” Erik said. “To see him laugh with other kids and compete with them, it’s a pleasure to watch.”

Bryan, too, has opened up since joining the team. So much so, that his parents have involved him in other activities sponsored by the U-M Adaptive and Inclusive Sports Experience (UMAISE) at Mott. Bryan participated in the inaugural adaptive triathlon and plays walker soccer once a week.

“Michigan Medicine is allowing us to raise all nine of our kids in the same way, providing them with physical activities and health care opportunities that are unmatched,” Erik said. “It makes me a better dad, Sandy a better mom, and our family a better family.”

With that in mind, this Father’s Day — the first with Henry in tow and a full family of 11 by his side — will be a special one for Erik.

“I don’t need a specific day to realize how lucky I am,” Erik said. “Because every day, these kids bless me way more than I’m able to bless them.”