Elijah spent the first five weeks of life in an intensive care nursery, his tiny body medicated with morphine to counter violent withdrawals from the heroin and alcohol he’d become addicted to in his mother’s womb.
He went from the hospital to the home of foster parents Neal and Debbie Schreibeis. His foster mother worked as a nurse at Deaconess when Elijah was born and said his withdrawals continued through his toddler years.
The couple slept near the boy, whose sleep was wracked with convulsions, to comfort him and monitor his breathing. Shortly after they adopted him, he was officially diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome.
A psychologist told Neal and Debbie Schreibeis that Elijah Schreibeis likely would struggle in school more and more each year and predicted he wouldn’t finish. An addict born to an addict, it appeared the odds were stacked against Elijah Schreibeis from the start.
Fortunately, he was adopted into a family with a strong will and stronger faith. This month, he’s graduating from Genesis Prep, a private Post Falls high school, and plans to attend North Idaho College for two years, then transfer to a university.
For his senior project, Schreibeis job shadowed Beth Paragamian, a wildlife education specialist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. The experience cemented his goal of a career in wildlife conservation.
“I like everything outdoors,” he said. “I don’t like being inside at all. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been outside. I hardly watch TV. I’m hardly ever on any electronics. I’m just outside.”
In addition to fishing, camping and riding ATVs, Schreibeis spends a lot of time outside playing basketball – at his home court or Coeur d’Alene’s McEuen Park. This year, he played on his school’s varsity team, which placed third at the state competition.
“He has done very well despite how things started out,” Debbie Schreibeis said. “I attribute it to having a good, stable home environment that is Christ-centered and him willing to be a good listener as a kid.”
To give him a solid base, Debbie and Neal Schreibeis had him go through kindergarten twice. Since then, he’s been on track every year and is finishing his senior year with high marks – mostly As and Bs.
Elijah Schreibeis is one of 11 children – eight adopted – in the family. His biological parents are dead: his mother of an overdose when he was 3 and his father murdered when the boy was about 9.
Because of his genetic predisposition to addiction, fetal alcohol syndrome and a diagnosis of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, Schreibeis has to be extra careful.
“I just got to be more aware of what I’m around, the people I’m hanging with,” he said.
He said he is lucky to have parents, teachers, a coach and a family who care. They’re “supporters and encouragers,” he said.
“Some people will say you have to pick your battles with your kids,” Debbie Schreibeis said. “I think every battle is worth choosing. Every little choice or decision you make in life has a long-term consequence.”
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