Theirs is a story of unexpected trials, of love and persistence and grace in the face of challenge. But most importantly – and especially in this holiday season – theirs is a story of inspiration.
The Herrington family of Roseville is about to finish a year that would have been overwhelming for many. And yet they look forward to 2013 with hope, happiness and gratitude for the kindness shown to them by friends, family and strangers across the country inspired by their journey.
"It really says quite a bit about them, about who they are as people," friend Sarah Rothwell said of Lee and Beth Herrington and their children. "I've always been very impressed by them and really look up to them as individuals and as a family."
Rothwell, whose husband works with Lee Herrington at the Citrus Heights Police Department, inspired other police families from across the country to adopt the family for Christmas.
It came as a touching surprise to the Herringtons, who have endured a series of trials.
Their unexpected journey began in July 2010, when their fifth child, the result of an unplanned pregnancy, was born. Chloe was discovered to have Down syndrome, a development the Herringtons, in their early 40s at the time, said they had prepared for and accepted.
"She came out a little different," said Lee Herrington, a police sergeant. "We embraced it."
Beth Herrington said she and her husband did not experience the grief that many parents of children with Down syndrome suffer, in part because they already had four healthy, "typical" children.
Their acceptance did not end there. Within two weeks, Beth met a family who had adopted a child with Down syndrome from overseas. She was inspired.
Lee, however, was reluctant. "Let's be advocates," he told his wife. "Let's help other families." He assumed it was a phase, that his wife would move on.
She didn't. Beth Herrington came to know an organization called Reece's Rainbow, which helps families adopt children with Down syndrome and other special needs from other countries, and she perused their website regularly.
Soon, her older daughters were doing so, too. And on Mother's Day 2011, one of the girls showed Lee a picture of little Olivia, and Lee, too, was moved. He offered to sell his BMW motorcycle to pay the commitment fee.
Some friends and family discouraged the adoption, but the Herringtons were not deterred.
"I think the only thing you could do is call it a calling," Lee said.
After a year of fundraising that included Police Department bake sales, they traveled to Ukraine in April to pick up Olivia, who is just shy of 2 years old. When they returned, they learned that Chloe, now 2 1/2 , had leukemia.
For the last 2 1/2 months, the Herringtons have kept two homes: their warm, comfortable abode in Roseville, and the other, the fourth floor of Kaiser Medical Center in Roseville.
Beth has spent days there, while Lee continues working in the detectives unit. At night, he heads to the hospital to relieve his wife, who goes home to rock Olivia to sleep.
Chloe is home now, but only for a little while. Next month, she'll return for more chemotherapy. Her prognosis is good – she's in remission – but she needs more treatments.
"She's just a rock star. You would never know," said her mom. "The doctors come in and shrug their shoulders because she should be lying in bed, sick."
Instead, she is usually entertaining the hospital staff, smiling or dancing, as she was on one recent morning. She loves showing off her dance moves to the hit song "Gangnam Style" and loves being photographed. She affectionately pats the back of her little sister, Olivia, or brushes the hair out of her face.
Olivia has come with her own challenges. In an orphanage in Ukraine, she spent most of her time in a crib and lacked stimulation. She came to the Herringtons thin, unaccustomed to being touched, and underdeveloped. She has progressed well in her new home, her parents say, and is catching up.
Through the tough times, the Herringtons say they are motivated by Chloe's joy, her positive prognosis and the thought of what might have been had they not brought Olivia into their lives.
"We have saved a life. She would not have survived in that orphanage – she would've just wasted away in that crib," Beth said. "And because of her, other people have been inspired."
Among those are the couple's oldest children: Katie, 15; LeeAnn, 14; Abby, 12; and Jack, 10. The Herringtons said the children have learned valuable life lessons caring for their neediest siblings, and one has even expressed interest in a related career.
"When you have a special- needs child, everybody pitches in and helps, and I've seen a positive impact on (our older children)," Lee said. "Jack wanted a boy – that was probably the only critique. The girls are very much like their mother, and they were very much willing to help take this on."
Also inspired was Rothwell, who asked other members of a national support group called PoliceWives to adopt the Herringtons for Christmas. Gifts came in from across the country and were presented to the Herringtons in a surprise meeting at the Police Department. There were many tears.
"It was a really special moment," Rothwell said.
The family also has been assisted by the Keaton Raphael Memorial, a Roseville nonprofit that helps families of children with cancer, and many friends and family.
The Herringtons say they have been moved by the kind acts of others. But those who know the Herringtons say they are the real inspiration.
"God only gives special children to special people," said police Sgt. Eric Mattke. "Lee and his wife are special people."