Six-year-old Danica had spent her entire life in a Ukrainian orphanage. She hadn’t had a single visitor in her time there, and sadly it didn’t seem likely that she would ever be adopted.
If circumstances didn’t improve for the little girl, moreover, she would likely be removed from the orphanage and left to fend for herself on the street. However, when a stranger from the other side of the world saw a photo of Danica, it utterly changed her fate.
Danica had arrived at the orphanage six and a half years earlier with a rare genetic disorder called Treacher Collins syndrome. The condition, which affects approximately one out of every 50,000 babies born around the world, usually manifests itself through facial disfigurement.
In particular, many of those with Treacher Collins syndrome have facial bones and tissue that are not properly developed. As a result, they may have problems with hearing and speaking.
The condition varies in severity with each person who is affected, but often people with Treacher Collins have underdeveloped cheekbones and chins. And while Treacher Collins has no bearing on intelligence, some sufferers may struggle to communicate coherently due to the setbacks in hearing and speaking that it can present.
Danica herself suffers from deafness and lacks some bones in her face. Because of her medical complications, then, the six-year-old’s prospects in her Eastern European orphanage were grim.
And, unfortunately, anyone wanting to adopt may have easily passed her by: not least because there are so very many orphans in Ukraine. According to a 2015 report by The Dallas Morning News, approximately 90,000 children reside in orphanages in the country, with most those who were removed from their parents due to ill-treatment or who were just simply deserted.
One day, however, Tami Wetmore saw a photo of Danica on the internet and immediately decided to go see her. “It’s just, you felt it in your heart. We knew, as soon as I saw her. I knew, in my spirit, ‘Go get your daughter,’” Tami said in a 2015 interview with Dallas news station WFAA.
Tami and her husband Thom duly visited Danica at her orphanage in Ukraine. They then spent two years completing the adoption process so Danica could become part of their family.
And the Wetmores were drawn to Danica for a beautiful reason. Tami and Thom have a daughter of their own, Juliana, who also has Treacher Collins.
In fact, Tami found Danica’s photo after doing a Google search for “Treacher Collins adoptions.” The couple wanted their daughter to grow up with someone like her so she wouldn’t feel alone.
Juliana’s condition is much more debilitating than Danica’s, however. As well as being unable to hear, the Wetmores’ first-born daughter came into the world with only 60 percent of the bones that were meant to be in her face.
As a result, Juliana has undergone over 40 surgeries to her face – but, incredibly, she remains upbeat and resilient while dealing with it all. “You forget that there’s anything different about her after she’s sitting there for five minutes,” said Thom of his daughter to WFAA.
Indeed, according to her dad, more than a few people could take a leaf out of Juliana’s book. “She loves everybody. She doesn’t judge anybody. She doesn’t see anybody as different,” Thom added to the news station.
The Wetmores eventually brought Danica back with them to Tyler, Texas. In the six years since, though, the happy family has grown.
That’s because, after adopting Danica, Thom and Tami decided to open their hearts even wider. Their brood increased through adoption yet again when the couple eventually chose to give two sisters and a brother a loving home.
As for Danica and Juliana, they’re both now 12 years old and are virtually as close as sisters can be. They communicate speedily by sign language and stick together at school.
Once an orphan with no prospects, Danica now shines in the warmth of her adopted family – and she and Juliana are just like any other pre-teen girls in many respects. As Juliana told WFAA, “My favorite thing to do is watch movies. Watch TV. Play on the computer. Play with my sisters.”
And Danica, according to her dad, is “quirky” as well as “extremely inquisitive” and “very artistic.” On the latter point, he added to WFAA, “[She] loves drawing, painting, expressing herself.”
Even with a full house, then, Thom and Tami have never questioned their decision to bring Danica home for a second. Thom in particular explained their feelings beautifully in an interview with Jacksonville, Florida’s First Coast News. In it, he said, “God never gives you more than you can handle. You have to choose to handle it.”