LOS ANGELES, JAN. 21 -- Not long ago, 17-month-old Alexandru was sick and starving, and likely to join more than 100,000 children abandoned to Romania's bleak and overcrowded orphanages.
Now, the toddler cavorts with five new siblings in a world of plenty that his young mind could not have imagined.
"He parades around this house like he owns the place," said his adoptive mother, DeAnne Brady of Chino Hills, 30 miles east of Los Angeles.
When the mother of four adopted Alexandru and an infant Romanian girl, she joined scores of Americans who were moved to action by reports of deprivation and hunger in Romania's state-run orphanages.
In recent months, U.S. families have taken in some 400 Romanian children. The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest processes about 30 adoptions per week, said Carol Stevens, chairwoman of the Save the Children of Romania Fund in Detroit.
Many have been taken from orphanages. Others, like Alexandru, have been given directly to American couples by impoverished parents who are unable to care for their offspring.
Brady and four of her siblings have adopted 10, adding the newcomers to already substantial families ranging from four to eight children. Reared in a close-knit family of 11 children, they said they embraced their parents' philosophy that there's always room for one or two more.
"When I saw the need there, I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. It started to gnaw at me night and day," said Brady. "Everyone said to me, 'You cannot save a nation.' I said, 'But I can save two children.' "
The children are the youngest victims of the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu, who was overthrown and executed with his wife on Christmas Day 1989. The dictator prohibited birth control, abortion and family planning information.
As Romania's economy deteriorated under Ceausescu, thousands of impoverished parents turned over their children to state orphanages.
Conditions remain shocking in many institutions. Sanitary conditions often are deplorable. Many of the children are handicapped or suffer from AIDS, contracted from infected needles or blood transfusions. Many young children are left in their cribs for months on end with little human contact.
The Romanian government generally cooperates with foreigners seeking to adopt, said Stevens. Even so, it is not an easy task. Brady spent five weeks in Romania. Unable to clear up technicalities in U.S. law that prevented her from bringing Alexandru home, she finally left the toddler with a sister who also was in Bucharest. He arrived in California just before Christmas.
His natural mother already had lost two children, one to malnutrition and the other to asphyxiation in a poorly ventilated Bucharest apartment two floors below ground level. Unable to provide Alexandru sufficient food or medical care, she met Brady at a Bucharest hospital and asked her to take him.
Brady said she spent between $8,000 and $10,000, including travel costs and spartan hotel accommodations that cost $189 per night.