GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. -- A Clay County girl born with Treacher Collins syndrome, a genetic disorder which left her without almost half the bones in her face, now has a new bright spot in her life.
Six-year-old Juliana Wetmore whose story first appeared on First Coast News six years ago, has a new sister. Danica just came to the United States from Ukraine and will be starting school in Clay County.
Like Juliana, Danica has Treacher Collins syndrome, but her case is not nearly as severe as Juliana's. Doctors in Miami said Juliana's is the most extreme case on record in the world.
Juliana's dad said if Juliana is a 10 in severity, Danica is three.
Juliana will have surgery number 39 next month. Danica, who is also 6, will have fewer than 10 surgeries, her new parents estimate.
Thom and Tami Wetmore said they've been wanting another child, but because Treacher Collins is genetic, they were afraid to have a biological child.
So Tami Wetmore Googled "Treacher Collins adoptions" and scanned the internet. Two years ago, she found a little girl whose face reminded her of Juliana. her husband said he was a bit shocked the girl lived so far away, but right away the couple fell in love with her.
Two long years later, Danica is now Juliana's new sister through adoption. "You just can't wipe the smile off that little girl's face," Thom Wetmore said of Danica.
Juliana, though difficult to understand, said softly, "That's my sister."
Danica will likely need special hearing aids, perhaps a type called "cochlear baha," which are implants directly into her head.
Juliana is progressing well with that type of hearing aid and can answer someone standing behind her using soft words or a flurry of sign language.
Children with Treacher Collins typically have above-average- intelligence. Juliana's surgeon in Miami said she could go to college someday, Teacher said
Danica already is soaking up new signs, communicating with enthusiasm and getting used to her new life.
She had never seen a bathtub before, Tami Wetmore said, because she only had showers at the orphanage in the Ukraine. Now Danica is having a blast taking baths.
The Wetmores have insurance through the Navy and years of experience with experts in the field of Treacher Collins. They said that background, has made adopting Danica just the right move for them.
And the Wetmores said the fact that Danica and Juliana are only two months apart will be a blessing for both girls as they grow up and rely on each other to face the world with their own special challenges.
Danica, Thom Wetmore said, isn't scared of anything, but when she came to the First Coast, she weighed only 30 pounds, apparently due to a lack of a nutritious diet or enough food in Ukraine. Juliana already weighed about 60 pounds.
Meanwhile, Juliana is still learning signs and reading at a fast pace. Her parents are hoping in about two years she'll be able to eat and speak. Right now, for example, she can lick cheese off a pretzel stick but must still be fed through a tube in her stomach.
Older sister Kendra said she's proud of her sisters.
One other twist?
The Wetmores now have legal custody of two other little girls, ages 1 and 3. Thom Wetmore said the girls, who were children of Thom's distant relative, were not being cared for properly and were about to be put into state custody.
Tami Wetmore said the constant buzz around the house is thrilling to her. She isn't sure, though, why God has "trusted" her with so many little lives.
If you'd like to leave a message of encouragement to this First Coast Family, just put your comments below this story.
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