Jamie Freishtat remembers the first photograph she saw of her son Luke. He was 2 years old, tiny, sitting on a hospital bed with metal railings and surrounded by green walls. His stomach was swollen and seemed to fall between his knees, almost like a statue of Buddha. His skin was discolored and his hair was orange. Freishtat, a pediatrician, could tell that Luke was malnourished. She could also see his large, sweet brown eyes staring at the camera.

The photo had been texted to Jamie by her husband, Rob, who was on his seventh volunteer trip to a hospital about 150 miles north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Rob, chief of emergency medicine at Children’s National Health System in D.C., was conducting rounds at Hôpital Sacré Coeur in March 2013 when he stopped by Luke’s bed. The toddler was hooked up to an IV drip for hydration. Nurses had tried coaxing him into drinking milk or eating peanut butter for protein, but he only wanted Tampico, a sweet fruit drink. They told Rob that the boy had been abandoned. In Haiti, it’s not uncommon for families who can’t afford to feed their children to leave them at a hospital in the hopes that someone else will take care of them. 

“Rob called me that night and said, ‘I found him—the child we are going to adopt,’ ” Jamie says. 

Rob hadn’t traveled to Haiti that week because he wanted to adopt. He and Jamie had two sons at home in Potomac and a busy life juggling their careers with the boys’ school and sports schedules. He’d gone there because he and his wife wanted to try to save lives. They’d started making trips to Haiti soon after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated the country three years earlier, leaving 300,000 people injured and at least 220,000 dead. But something happened when Rob saw Luke. He’d met so many adorable children in Haiti, but this was different. “Love at first sight,” his son Max calls it. Rob can’t explain the connection, but he felt like he already knew the boy, and minutes after they met, Luke clung to him and wouldn’t let go.