Dad refuses to abandon his newborn with Down syndrome

Feb 6, 2015 at 9:30 a.m. ET

Samuel Forrest faced the unthinkable when doctors handed him his son. No, the problem wasn't that his beautiful newborn had Down syndrome. The problem was that the baby's mother and entire family refused to acknowledge baby Leo's existence. Threatened with divorce, Forrest made the only decision he could. He kept his son.

Now, hoping to leave Armenia to bring his son back to his homeland of New Zealand, the first-time — and abruptly single — dad is turning to strangers for help. "This really came out of the blue for me," he told ABC. "I don't have a lot, I have very little in fact. The goal is to raise enough for a year so I can get a part-time job so Leo doesn't have to be in daycare and I can help care for him."

Leo's mother has had no contact with the baby, who is only two weeks old. Forrest knows Leo needs love, support and affection full time during these crucial first months of his life. He will use the money raised to return home where Leo will have support from extended family and educational opportunities. According to Forrest's GoFundMe page, an estimated 98 percent of all babies with Down syndrome born in Armenia are abandoned every year. These children often go on to live their entire lives in orphanages.

The shocking question is how so many parents, including Leo's own mother, could heartlessly abandon their children. Even the doctors who delivered baby Leo acted with horrific callousness, covering his face as if hiding something shameful.

baby leo

Image: Bring Leo Home/GoFundMe

Forrest hopes that Leo's story will shine a light on the repulsive attitude toward people with Down syndrome and other disabilities that remains pervasive in Armenia and other parts of Eastern Europe. "Your support of Leo will also help draw healthy attention to this enormous problem — Armenia's hidden shame — and help the push for change, education and acceptance — for Armenia's forgotten babies," he says.

Touched by Leo's story and Forrest's courage, people from all over the world have already raised over $200,000 to give this perfect baby the future he deserves. Forrest says that portions of the funds will go toward programs to encourage Armenian parents to love and accept children with disabilities — as well as to the facilities that care for the babies who have been abandoned by those who should have been their fiercest advocates.

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