Jill and Josh Baron have never met Zach. They've never talked to him on the phone. He doesn't speak English, he's 11,000 miles away and to tell the truth, the Barons don't even know the 5-year-old blind Chinese boy's real name.
But nevertheless, they think of the stranger as their future son, and the south Oak Park couple is fighting to raise the roughly $30,000 they need to adopt "Zach."
"I didn't really expect to be drawn to a kid with a visual impairment, but I saw his picture and that was that," Jill Baron, 32, said. "He tugs at your heart strings, which is silly and cheesy, but it's kind of what happened. I tried to shake the idea of Zach for many days after that, but there's just no shaking it."
The Barons have lived in Oak Park for just over four years, having relocated here from Boston. They already have three biological children but have always wanted to adopt a child at some point in life.
Both are in fields that work with disabled children - Jill a teacher of students with disabilities, Josh a child neurologist - and at some point they started talking about bringing a disabled child into their family.
In what the couple calls a "serendipitous" turn of events, a friend suggested in May that Jill look at the Web site RainbowKids.com if she were thinking of adopting, and it was there that she came across Zach and her heart strings started getting tugged.
The boy (who has been given a different name by the adoption agency to protect his identity) was abandoned by his family at age 2. He has a cancer of the eye called retinoblastoma and had both his eyes removed after arriving at an orphanage in China, just north of Hong Kong.
The Barons have been working through an agency in Colorado called Adoption for All Children. Representatives of the agency traveled to China and met all 30 kids at Zach's orphanage. The Barons filled out an "intent to adopt" application and were pre-approved by China in June.
After the pre-approval, they have three months to submit information to China and a five to six month wait for travel approval. But with delays from the state, the Barons believe they likely won't be able to go to China to get Zach for another year.
In the meantime, they've been trying to raise the money needed to make the adoption happen. They estimate it will cost $30,000, between plane tickets, hotel fees, a required donation to the Chinese orphanage, and all the application costs.
Jill Baron has set up a blog at www.baronzoo.blogspot.com to track the process, and has included a PayPal link for anyone interested in donating to the cause. They also held a yard sale this past weekend to raise money, and ended up making $1,400.
"It was a giant step toward our journey to Zach," she said in an e-mail Sunday.
As they've progressed through the process, they've gotten updates, in the form of a picture of Zach and his measurements.
"We just feel very lucky," Josh Baron, 36, said when asked where their kind nature came from, later adding. "I feel like we have a lot to learn from Zach."
"And I'm sure he'll teach us a lot more. Probably more than we will teach him," Jill Baron added.
This article has been revised to remove the names and photos of the Barons' children.