By JON FRANk
February 10 2007
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- For 14 years, Diane Sadovnikov built a career on the essential goodness of the American family, connecting hundreds of married American couples with orphaned Ukrainian children. It brought her a deep sense of satisfaction and a dash of adventure. She was changing the world as she traveled through it, making dozens of journeys between the United States and Odessa in Ukraine, with good news for needy children and those who loved them. Her efforts placed more than 300 children--many with disabilities who had been given up to orphanages by their Russian and Ukrainian parents--with loving families who brought them to a new life in America. "Diane is wonderful," said Karol Saner, 56, a Virginia Beach mother of two grown children who is using Sadovnikov's agency to adopt two children from Donetsk in Ukraine. "When I first met her, I just glued myself to her. She is just so all for these children." Now, at age 48, Sadovnikov is battling cancer and arranging one final adoption: her own two daughters--Christina, 9, and Rebekah, 6--to a Virginia Beach couple. She is also pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit because of what she says was a diagnosis that came too late. Her years as an adoption specialist have allowed Sadovnikov to face the most difficult decision of her life without displaying her emotions. "Basically, it is just something that is stated in my will," she said in her Virginia Beach home. "It will only be if I die, and I am hoping that I have five or 10 years. "But that is unrealistic, statistically." Sadovnikov was diagnosed in early 2006, three years after cancer cells first showed up on a Pap test. The stage-four cervical cancer already has destroyed parts of her stomach and ruined her bladder. In 2003, the first of Sadovnikov's Pap tests was positive for cancer. Another test a year later also showed cancer, as did a third in 2005. But according to a lawsuit filed in Circuit Court, the first two Pap tests were incorrectly evaluated by the Laboratory Corporation of America, which is used by her family physicians, First Colonial Family Practice Center in Virginia Beach. When LabCorp finally got it right in 2005, according to the lawsuit, Sadovnikov was not immediately notified by her physician, Dr. Mary C. Picardi, that she had cancer. The lawsuit says the positive cancer test sat in Sadovnikov's medical file for nine months before she learned of her diagnosis. The lawsuit seeks $50 million in damages from LabCorp, Picardi and First Colonial Family Practice. Representatives of the defendants were contacted for comment. A LabCorp representative said she hadn't heard about the lawsuit. No one returned a phone call from First Colonial. Attorneys and representatives for the defendants were offered an opportunity to discuss the case for this article, but did not comment. "I find it unbelievable that so many things could have happened to one person," Sadovnikov said. "What are the odds?" Cancer has cost Sadovnikov 20 pounds and left her with a series of complications. As a result, she said, it has become impossible for her to work or care for her children. Sadovnikov's elderly parents have helped care for the girls, as have her two brothers. Her former husband, a Ukrainian national now living in California, is only an occasional visitor. If she dies, Sadovnikov believes, none of them would be appropriate guardians for her daughters. At one time she considered letting her children be adopted by one of her brothers, but that would have meant a move to North Carolina. "The idea of them losing me and then all of their friends and routines and everything... was too much, and the more I thought about it, the more it tortured me," she said. "I went a couple months just haunted by it every night." So she looked elsewhere to plan for the worst. She thinks a Virginia Beach couple, whom she declined to identify, would be the best choice for her daughters. The couple already has two children - one boy, one girl. And her two daughters have spent a lot of time at their home. Sadovnikov said she and her daughters have made the Virginia Beach family "honorary cousins." She believes she has an eye for people who will make successful adoptive parents. One from the past stands out. She remembers placing a tiny, orphaned Ukrainian girl with an American businessman and his family. The girl had a cleft palate and was near death from malnutrition. Most families, she said, would have been afraid of adopting such a child. This couple had the girls' cleft repaired and went to live in Japan, where the father worked for a drug company. That was about four years ago. Sadovnikov receives pictures twice a year from the family. "She is the chubbiest, cutest little blond-haired angel you have ever seen," Sadovnikov said. "Those are the ones where you know you just played a part in saving a child's life." She hopes to do the same for her own two children. So far, she has been able to stem their fears. "I honestly think I will last longer," Sadovnikov said. "But I have discussed it with them so they know that it is real. I tell them all the time that we will always be together in heaven."