BARNESVILLE, Ga. -- A Georgia family has become known as the "Brad and Angelina of dwarfs." Their story starts about an hour south of Atlanta in the small town of Barnesville, but goes all the way around the world.
Meet Amber Johnston. The 33-year-old mother of five stands four feet tall.
"A lot of times when people see me in the grocery store trying to reach something they will say, 'oh, I'm short I have a hard time at home reaching stuff too.' No you don't because our short and your short when you are 5'1 is totally different because our short is with our arms and legs. So you can still reach ... I tell people not only get on your knees, but cut your arm in half and then try to reach something," said Amber.
Born to average size parents, Amber was not raised with little people and learned to adapt to a world designed for people much taller than she is. Fourteen years ago she married Trent, now 36, a grounds supervisor at Gordon State College.
"I'm four foot three. Sometimes I say 5-1, 51 inches," jokes Trent.
"When I started dating Trent and being around a family that was little and coming in and you can stand up and everybody looks eye to eye, it's amazing," said Amber.
While two dwarfs can have average sized children the Johnstons did not. Jonah, 12, and Elizabeth, 10, their only biological children, were born with dwarfism but both over six pounds.
"When I went in to deliver Elizabeth, I was 51 inches around and I stand 48 inches tall," said Amber.
That's when they decided they should not have more biological children, but their family didn't stop growing.
"We knew when God was ready, he would let us know it was time to adopt, and I actually got a call from a ministry out of Ohio," explained Amber.
When she heard about a beautiful, blonde-haired blue-eyed orphaned dwarf in Russia she knew it was time for their family to expand. They adopted Ana, then Alex from South Korea who is now 8, and Emma, 7, from China. Amber says they are the largest family of achondroplasia dwarfs in the world.
"It's something in our heart as far as adopting children with dwarfism because so many people average size adults, dwarfism is not something that is curable. It's a condition not a disease, and therefore, a lot of people turn away because it's not fixable," said Amber.
In the past eight years, the Johnstons say they have helped find homes for more than one hundred orphaned dwarfs from more than 20 countries. We spent an afternoon in their home to get a first hand look at the real-life seven dwarfs.
"Trent and I did not adopt children to become the seven dwarfs. That is just something that has happened," Amber said.
From the outside, their home looks like your typical house and from the inside it's no different. The Johnstons have made it a point not to modify their home to make it easier for their kids.
"We chose not to modify because number one, the world outside is not built for us so raising our kids in a home completely at their level and modified for them, they would not be prepared for the outside world, school, church, friend's houses," said Amber.
"It gives the kids reality when they go out. They can be independent. They don't have to constantly ask for help," said Trent.
Reality does come with a price. All of the kids, except for one who is home schooled, go to public school where they are the only little people.
"When I was in third grade there were kids that were picking on me, but my friends came beside me and helped me and it made me happy," Elizabeth Johnston said.
Instead of focusing on the negatives of being little people, the Johnstons choose to focus on the positives, and they say one of the benefits is that practically everyone in their small Georgia town knows who they are.
"This is our life and I think it's fantastic we are different," said Amber. "I believe the world is made up of so many different, colors, sizes shapes, especially the U.S. That's what makes it a wonderful place to live ... That's what I tell my kids. When they get down and say 'I can't do this,' I say 'well what can you do?'"
While their feet don't touch the ground when they sit on the couch, they are just like any other family. Alex loves Thomas the Train. The kids all love playing on their iPods, and from playing basketball to riding a bike, the Johnstons don't let their size hinder them.
Trent has even made special pedal extenders so he and his wife and other little people can drive their cars as a taller person would. While they are teaching their kids to thrive in a world not designed for them, they are also trying to teach the world about little people.
"It's amazing to me how people don't think we can hear and see and have feelings because that's so wrong. We do, and we know when people are laughing and staring and taking pictures we know it's going on. Though we might be ignoring it, we know it's going on," said Amber.
She encourages people to ask them questions, but just be respectful.
"There is no form of dwarfism that is considered midget. That is the term to stay away from, but 'dwarf,' 'littler person,' 'person of little stature' are all fine," said Amber.
While the Johnstons don't have any plans right now to adopt more dwarfs, they are not ruling it out. In the meantime, they say they will continue to work to find homes for orphaned dwarfs and work to make the world a more open place for their children.
"That's our mission: to educate. To hopefully see a difference when our kids become adults, job interviews might go a little smoother and just different things," said Amber.
"It's still even though we are in 2012 it's still looked at as a circus side show-type thing from a lot of people. It's come a long way but it's still got a long ways to go," said Amber.
"There's still a lot of work to be done," said Trent.
To learn more about the Johnstons and adopting orphaned dwarfs you can visit their blog by clicking here.
First Coast News