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Shot in foster care, teen ends up on Capitol Hill

By Thomas McRae, Special to CNN
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Fri September 6, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thomas McRae lived in 22 different homes after being abandoned by his parents
  • In one house, he was accidentally shot by his caretaker's grandson
  • McRae was eventually adopted; he now plans to help other kids in foster care

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle -- injury, illness or other hardship -- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week we meet college junior Thomas McRae, who grew up in 22 different households, half of them foster homes.

(CNN) -- Finding stability in my life has been a problem.

I grew up on the 500 block of Lincoln Heights in Washington. When I was 1 month old, my mother abandoned me. She left me with a man whom I grew up to call my father.

I was left with this man so that he could take care of me. Instead, he paid other people to take care of me. He came around as much as he could to spend quality time with me, whether it was going to a park, going out for dinner or reading at the library. He tried with all his might to be there for me.

But I soon began living in a real nightmare.

My childhood was rough. Oftentimes I felt alone, depressed. I even battled with thoughts of committing suicide because I felt no one really cared for me.

There were nights when I ran away from the homes that had taken me in. I would go for walks and just cry because I didn't understand what I did wrong to deserve this childhood.

When I was 10, I began to receive negative vibes about my living situation. I called my father and asked if he could pick me up and remove me from the home in which I was staying.

The next day, my nightmare became a reality. I was shot. As I slept on the couch, my caretaker's grandson discharged a 12-gauge shotgun. The pellets fired through the wall and accidentally hit me in my spinal cord and right shoulder.

All of a sudden, I couldn't really move my right shoulder.

I thought my life would be over soon. This is not what I wanted. I sat there bleeding, convinced that my time on earth would be cut short.

My surroundings led me to think that I would become a victim of my own nightmare. I believed that this was the last day of my life because I couldn't survive the way I was living.

Thankfully, I made it to hospital, and even though I was fading in and out, I survived.

During my time in the hospital, I had to learn to walk again and move my right shoulder, which was temporally paralyzed.

I was discharged from the hospital and sent to live with someone else who my father thought was able to take care of me.

Two weeks after staying in that household, I was placed in the District's foster care system. I was labeled a neglect case.

Even though I was finally getting help, I felt even more alone after being taken away from my father. Years later, my mother would be found, only to turn down the opportunity to take custody of me.

Two years after I was shot, the only person who ever cared for me died of cancer. At that moment, I lost the one person who meant the world to me, my father, Thomas McRae Sr. A DNA test later proved that the man that I thought was my father really wasn't.

Eventually I would be placed at the Boys Town group home in Washington under the leadership of Hubert and Chauna Geter, who revealed to me what the meaning of true love, patience and nourishment truly means.

Because of their support I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I lived in a total of 22 households before I was adopted by my close friend's mom, Joi Morris. That's when I knew that everything in my life was supposed to happen. I realized that you have to go through hell to find heaven.

This summer, I had the pleasure of interning on Capitol Hill under Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland for the Congressional Coalition on Adoptions Institute's Foster Youth Internship Program. For the first time in my life, I spent two months around people who had battled what I battled and was overcome by their testimony.

Now I want to share my experiences with the world and help out anyone who is, or was, like me. I also feel the responsibility to give back to the city that birthed me, Washington, and I vow to do exactly that.

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