Cathie Rock didn't care that she was heading to the epicenter of the deadly SARS outbreak.
She had waited nearly two years for a baby, and little Emily, in an orphanage in Anhui, China, already felt like her daughter. The Orlando woman wasn't going to wait a day longer.
So Rock and her sister boarded an airplane on April 2 bound for Guangdong province in China.
Throughout Florida and the rest of the country, adoptive parents are ignoring travel warnings and flying off to bring home babies from Asia that they've longed to hold.
For Rock, the trip initially went fine: She got 11-month-old Emily and headed to Houston to visit her mother before returning to Orlando.
That's when Emily got sick. Now Rock, 44, and her daughter are quarantined in her mother's Houston home. The Houston hospital where Rock took Emily after she started coughing and developed a fever was a scene out of a sci-fi movie, Rock said. A sign on the door to their isolation room said it all: Do Not Enter, Airborne Disease.
Nurses and doctors entering the room were covered from head to toe in masks, boots and gowns. "It looked like they were going into a nuclear reactor," Rock said during a telephone interview from Houston.
Rock is waiting to see what the tests will reveal. The doctors' diagnosis: possible SARS. But if Emily continues to improve, they will be allowed to come home next week.
The determination to travel to Asia despite the continued spread of the deadly virus that causes SARS doesn't surprise Mindy Carney.
"I have heard of no one who is hesitating," said Carney, who has two adopted children from China and who returned from China on April 5 with Half the Sky, a group of adoptive parents. The St. Louis woman said by the time parents are ready to travel to pick up a baby, they feel as if the infant is theirs. "That mama-bear instinct has kicked in already," she said.
The majority of adoptions by Americans in Asia are in China, home to about half of the world's 4,439 SARS cases.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services said there is no comprehensive national data on adoptions, but 5,053 immigrant visas were issued in 2002 to Chinese orphans coming to the United States.
Nothing could deter Debra and John Hewitt of College Park from getting Hannah Faye, their second adopted daughter. John Hewitt, 38, plans to travel to China in June -- toting masks, gloves and antibacterial hand gel -- to bring her home.
But some adoptive parents on Thursday received devastating news -- their trips have been delayed.
"It's disappointing," said Dawn Dean, spokeswoman for Bethany Christian Services, a Grand Rapids, Mich., adoption agency with an office in Maitland. "Some of these families have been waiting for two years to go. It's heartbreaking when something goes wrong."
Bethany Christian coordinates 1,800 adoptions annually in 32 states, with about a quarter in Asia. All of the agency's families had been going ahead with scheduled adoptions, until Thursday, when the business that arranges travel plans for the agency suspended travel to China.
Rock said that while she was out shopping in Guangdong -- the SARS virus first emerged there in November -- there were few signs of the epidemic. Few people wore masks. "It was amazing," said Rock, who works at the Orlando Sentinel. "You would have never thought that anything was wrong."
But back in the United States, things quickly changed.
Rock called her sister's pediatrician when Emily got sick. The doctor refused to see them, because they had been in China. So Rock took Emily to the emergency room. Hospital workers, warned that they were coming, waited outside, ready to whisk them into isolation. Then, they sent Emily to a hospital with a pediatric ward.
The next night, after a slew of tests, the Texas Department of Health told them that they could return to her mother's house -- and quarantine themselves for 10 days. There they remain, waiting for tests that were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Rock hopes she and her daughter will be allowed to return to Orlando on Wednesday. "I might be totally in denial, but in my heart I don't believe she has SARS," Rock said.
Still, she worries how people will react when she returns.
"I feel like I am typhoid Mary," she said.
Stephanie Erickson can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5347.