By Lance Cpl. Harley Robinson | 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
MCAS MIRAMAR — Family and friends stood anxiously with signs in their hands and tears in their eyes as the sound of aircraft engines slowly wound down while troops returning from a deployment with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit marched on to the flight line aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Sept. 10.
In the midst of the crowd, Megan Borkowski searched for her husband’s face with her children at her side. Through the chaos, it wasn’t long before they were reunited and the Borkowski family was together once again.
Gunnery Sgt. Travis Borkowski, a crew chief with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 166, has seen his fair share of deployments and homecomings. Although he has done this before, this homecoming was made extra special because he was returning to his newly adopted daughter, Briella.
The Borkowski’s, who already have two biological children, started the process to become foster parents in 2010 and received their first placement, or foster child, in 2013.
Since then, they have fostered seven babies with Travis only being home for four.
“The first baby we fostered, I deployed two days before he got here,” said Travis. “Since then, Megan’s had some short-term placements here and there.”
While on a deployment in February 2014, Travis got a message from Megan asking, “How do you feel about twins?”
That’s when they received Briella and her twin brother. Her brother, however, returned to their biological father after more than a year with the Borkowski’s.
“It was really devastating for us when her twin brother went home,” explained Megan. “We had him for 18 months, and we were the only family he knew.”
Though they were heartbroken by the loss of her twin, they were happy to continue fostering Briella and began the process to adopt, but the road wasn’t easy.
Briella was born small but perfectly healthy, Dec. 24, 2013. Unfortunately, that Valentine’s Day, she was found unresponsive and taken to the hospital. That’s when it was discovered that for the first month and a half of her life, she was the victim of severe physical abuse.
“The family didn’t want a girl,” said Megan. “The mother thought everyone was going to love [Briella] instead of her. She was jealous so they tried to get rid of her, beating her daily for a month.”
When the Borkowski’s first got her on Feb. 27, Briella required extensive medical care to include multiple medications, a feeding tube, an oxygen tank, heart monitor and regular trips to the hospital.
“Every six months she has a life or death crisis, and she’s in the hospital,” said Megan.
Her most recent crisis was last Christmas Eve, when Briella went into cardiac arrest after having a seizure. Travis was home at the time but deployed with the 13th MEU shortly after she was released from the hospital.
During this deployment, however, a lot changed for his family. The adoption for Briella went through, and she has been getting stronger and stronger every day. When Travis finally returned home this September and found his family in the crowd, he reunited with a brand new daughter.
“She’s really come a long way since I’ve been gone,” said Travis. “I’m so amazed by her will to survive.”
Briella still has seizures and uses her oxygen tank and heart monitor, but she is also making vocal noises, has improved motor function and can eat small foods by mouth. Now, she even waves to strangers and offers them high-fives.
Despite all her struggles, Briella is just as happy to be with the Borkowski’s as they are to have her as a daughter.
“To know that we are going to be her forever family, for however long she’s here, is the best feeling,” said Megan.
Although they successfully adopted Briella, she was not the end of the Borkowski’s fostering journey. Megan and Travis continue to foster children, recently receiving a new baby, and encourage other military families to consider fostering.
“It’s really opened my eyes to how many kids need help right here in San Diego,” said Travis. “It makes you want to help them, and every command I’ve been to has been very supportive.”
Megan added that she hopes more military families realize fostering is something that can be done as long as they’re willing to put in the effort, but she does recognize how difficult it can be to love a child who will eventually leave.
“If fostering is something you want to do, don’t let the fear of getting your heart broken stop you,” said Megan. “It is going to get broken, it’s going to get shattered, but there are so many kids there who are going to fill those voids that need love. You don’t regret loving a foster child, but you’ll regret not loving them enough.”
Through all the ups and downs, the Borkowski’s love their new daughter and are prepared to continue spreading the love to their future foster children.
“To know that you made a difference in that kid’s life, whether they’re going to remember you or not, is all that really matters,” said Megan.