Pictured above: Edwin (left), Leo (center) and Kevin (right).
When Ed Tournu’s leg was amputated due to a medical condition, he felt that his life was over. “I thought I was going to sit in a wheel chair all day and do nothing,” he recalled. Eight years later, Ed has worn out three prosthetic legs. He is busier than he could have imagined, thanks to Leo, a 13-year-old boy on the autism spectrum whom Ed and his partner, Kevin Donohue, adopted two years after the accident.
“Leo has brought so much joy into our lives,” said Ed, who with Kevin, had signed up to provide foster care, not to adopt. When the agency initially called about Leo, the couple declined.With Ed’s condition and two large dogs, they felt unable to care for a non-verbal, special needs child. But after a second call, they relented, agreeing to a two-week trial period. Just two days after Leo arrived, the men turned to each other and decided to become Leo’s dads.
“We didn’t deliberately ask for a special needs child. Just one that’s breathing and not polka-dotted,” joked Ed. But, he said, “Special needs is what you make of it. And Leo makes us proud every single day.”
Leo arrived at the Tournu-Donohue home at 6-and-a-half years old, weighing fifty pounds. As an infant, he had endured broken ribs and scalding on his lips. His mother returned to Barbados and left him with his grandmother, who surrendered the boy to social services. After living with Ed and Kevin for seven years, Leo now weighs one hundred eighty-seven pounds and has learned sign language. He can take care of himself, showering and dressing every day to attend a special needs school. Leo also sees a speech therapist, a psychologist, and a study aid. Just last week, Ed added, Leo received a Best Improvement in Communication Award. “We’re so excited to see the strides he’s taking. He’s learned so much, not as fast as some kids, but I don’t care how long it takes,” declared Ed. “I’m going to be around as long as I can to take care of this young man.”
To Ed and Kevin, integrating Leo into the wider community was a priority.The couple, both Caucasian, deliberately reached out to an African American family they knew and asked their son to be Leo’s godfather. The two families attend the same church, where the wider congregation also has embraced Leo warmly. Ed reported that though Leo is non-verbal, he is quite sociable. He has made many adult friends, including the judge who facilitated his adoption and neighbors who look out for him. The family has traveled when possible, once on a thrilling visit to Disney World, and often to see musical theater on Broadway. Leo is a fan of musicals with eight shows under his belt. When an interviewer commented on how lucky Leo was, Ed quickly replied: “I have to disagree with you. Kevin and I are the lucky ones.”
A year and a half ago, the foster care agency called with another special needs case: a 12 year-old boy, also on the autism spectrum. This time, the two dads responded swiftly to take in the new boy. They felt that a sibling would be a positive addition to Leo’s life. Unfortunately, the arrangement did not work out, but the couple is committed to future adoptions. “If I could do it again, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” said Ed.
For Father’s Day, the family usually dines out, but they had not yet decided where to go this year. They may visit the diner that Leo prefers after church each Sunday. The manager there holds Leo’s favorite table by the window for him. Or they may visit the same restaurant that they went to on Mother’s Day, where Kevin received a rose along with all the other mothers. “We may try the one with the roses,” mused Ed. “With my luck, they’ll give me a cigar instead,” he joked. “But it doesn’t matter. The best part is that we’ll have Leo with us.”
Happy Father’s Day from NYCA to Ed, Kevin and all of the special heroes in our lives!
Ed, Kevin and Leo are enthusiastic theater goers who have enjoyed the Theatre Development Fund’s Autism Theatre Initiative one of New York Collaborates for Autism’s grantees from the proceeds of Comedy Central’s Night of Too Many Stars benefit.