The children in Jesse Running's photo album are all shown lying in coffins. All died before the age of 16.
Jesse and Russ Running began caring for terminally ill children about 10 years ago when Mrs. Running met 7-year-old Karen, a young girl who had suffered severe brain damage in a car accident."All I could do was cry when I first saw her," Mrs. Running said.
The family cared for Karen until she died at 15. "I became very bonded to that child, as though she was our own," Mrs. Running said.
Since then, the Runnings have either adopted or taken as foster children five other terminally ill children. All have died except 3-year-old Missy, who "is still hanging in there."
They presently have six adopted and foster children, four of whom have severe health problems.
Asked why her family takes such ill children, Mrs. Running said: "It's pretty hard to explain."
"You have to have words in order to make other people understand feelings and that's hard for me to do," she said.
Missy spends much of her day in a baby seat, gasping for air. A rare blood disease has paralyzed her.
"Some doctors may call her a vegetable," Mrs. Running said. "I've never met a vegetable. The children will respond to the person they are bonded to, even if it isn't any more than a knowing look in their eyes or a slight grin.
"You can tell when a child is happy. That lets you know that you are that special person in their life."
Mrs. Running said her husband works while she cares for her three foster and three adopted children. They have eight biological children, but only the youngest, 15-year-old Chris, still lives at home.
One of the adoptees is a 10-year-old boy from South America who swallowed a cup of lye when he was about 1. He's a normal child in every way, except that he breathes through a hole in his windpipe.
Their three foster children include a 23-year-old profoundly retarded quadriplegic woman and a 2-year-old girl who weighed little more than a pound at birth and who still relies on oxygen to breathe.
The Runnings get state aid for their foster children, but Mrs. Running says it's never enough.
The children have come to the Runnings through referral from doctors and word-of-mouth. Some parents have come to them directly and asked that they take care of dying children.
"After each death, I go through a lot of soul-searching and say `I can't do this anymore.' But then you get another phone call asking you to take care of a child who is dying and what do you say? No? For me, it seems, it starts all over again."