An Interview with John Lahutsky

John Lahutsky
was born in Russia with cerebral palsy, and was abandoned by his parents at the age of eighteen months--left to live in an orphanage or "baby house." After being sent to an adult mental asylum at the age of six, he was rescued, adopted by his American mother, Paula Lahutsky, and brought to the United States to live. In 2011, he co-wrote the book, THE BOY FROM BABY HOUSE 10, and worked closely with NBC 
Dateline's  coverage of his life story that aired in April of that year. 
Now 24, he is a college student pursuing a degree in communications. He is a motivational speaker, Eagle Scout, social activist, and an active member of St. Paul Orthodox Church in Emmaus, PA.  He and his mother live in Bethlehem, PA.

Interview by BWG member Courtney Annicchiarico

Bethlehem Writers Group: Your book, The Boy from Baby House 10, follows you from ages 4-9. What do you remember about your experiences in Russia vividly?

John Lahutsky: I remember so much about the baby house. Everything from the wooden floors
and the smell I couldn't escape. Most of the days with no visitors, I would just look at the room and notice everything about the walls and cribs. I remember teaching Andrei to talk. Most staff wouldn't bother with me, or any of the other children, and I would sit for hours in a chair, just waiting for something to happen .

The best days were when a certain caretaker, Valentina, was on duty because she would recite poems and rhymes to me, and sneak in snacks for me, while the other children napped. Mostly, I remember thinking, “Please let it be over.”

 In Filimonki, the kids were left in cribs lying in their feces and urine. Many less fortunate were kept in make-shift straightjackets. It was always cold, so I remember that there were no blankets or even sheets. I figured out how to unhinge and lower the side of the crib, and I kept climbing out of my crib to try to get out of the room. They realized I was trouble, so they began drugging me to keep me quiet. If I was fed, it was through a bottle.


BWG: When you revisited Moscow in 2010 with Dateline, you went to the Baby House (no longer in operation) and Filimonki. You also reconnected with some of your heroes, like Vika, who fought so hard for you. What was it like to confront your past?

JL: Seeing Vika, her energy and personality, was wonderful. She had the same love and remarkable spirit. She hadn't changed at all. She was so overjoyed seeing how much I had thrived in America with my mom. At Filimonki, I was reunited with some of the teenagers who had been kind to me. One of them, Aloysha, had once saved my life when I was attacked by another child. All the memories rushed back, though. Any joy I felt was dampened by that.


BWG: What is your relationship with your coauthor, Alan Philips and his wife, Sarah?

JL: We occasionally email and talk on the phone to this day. My mom has sent them and Vika updates on my life and progress ever since the adoption. They saved me and we're both so grateful.


BWG: Much of the book is based on journals, records, and reports. How was it for you to read other people's accounts of your life?

JL:  Sarah kept meticulous journals, and a lot of Alan's writing is based on those as well as interviews with Vika, and reports from the Baby House. It was interesting to see all the background information that I had no knowledge of. There was so much I hadn't realized, even things that had happened to me.

I remember so much, but only from my perspective, so it was strange to view my life through different.


BWG: Throughout my reading of the book, I have to say that the personality I was drawn to most (except for you) was Vika because of her age. Aside from your mother, was Vika the guardian angel you prayed for?

JL:  There were so many angels, but it was Vika who gave me the faith anchor to stay afloat. I spent so many days looking at four walls and hoping that someone new would walk through the door. Vika exudes love and that is so important. It was her faith that gave me something to cling to. I remember the window at the baby house that she used to take me to. We'd look out and she would talk to me about God. I began to believe that I could survive because God would be beside me. Sarah, on the other hand, was very outspoken and learned how to get on the good side of every supervisor at the baby house. They liked her because she knew how to help them if they helped her. Alan wrote the initial article about me and my friend. There were so many people who helped me.


BWG: Your list of accomplishments since your adoption is pretty impressive: Eagle Scout, author, college student, coach, board member for the Miracle League. It's difficult for me to connect the boy you were to the young man you are now. When so many people crumble under less pressure and trauma, how have you surpassed your past?

JL:  My faith in God comes first. My mom always emphasizes that, no matter what, God is there and always provides, even if you don't get the answers you want. My education has also helped me. My mom has always fought fiercely to secure a proper education for me.


BWG: It's amazing to me that, just a few blocks away from where I live now, is the woman who had the courage to change your life. Describe your mom for me. What would you say are her greatest attributes?

JL:  Her love, faith, and kindness. She taught me that if you are fortunate to have a good life, it is important to give back and help others. Everyone has gifts from God and it is important to use them to better our communities. I love my mom so much and I wonder if I show it enough. I often think about what I can give her to show her how much I love her, but she says I am her greatest gift.


BWG:  How would you advise others to get involved in social causes?

JL:  Look around you! People are in need everywhere. I am a board member for the Miracle League, which is an incredible organization that gives children with various disabilities the opportunity to play baseball. I love listening to and watching parents as they cheer on their children, The joy is incredible.

I also do a lot of volunteer work, speaking engagements, and fundraising for orphans in Eastern Europe with Youth Reach International and Warm The Children. There is so much suffering. People don't realize how much suffering and injustice there is. My friend, Aloysha , was brought to Filimonki simply because he had run away from an orphanage. The directors fabricated a diagnosis to justify keeping him there. He has since been released and is trying to pursue his life-long dream of becoming a priest (remember, he had saved my life). So, get involved in any cause that speaks to you.


BWG: What would you say was the hardest part of writing this book? Did you ever hesitate to share your story?

JL:  Absolutely! My mom and I are actually very private. Back in 2006, the (Allentown, PA) Morning Call newspaper did an article on us. It was supposed to be something small but it turned into the front page feature. Mom sent a copy of it to Alan and Sarah, and they contacted us to say, “You don't know the half of it.” We never set out to do a book, but we both felt that if my story could save even one life, we needed to tell it. I don't want any more children freezing and neglected.