Third-grader Layla Popik bounded through the front door of her suburban Cleveland home after the school bus dropped her off. She settled in at the kitchen table with a juice box and an iPad, and chatted easily with her parents, as if she’s been doing this forever.
Adopted from China just over a year ago, the 9-year-old goes about like a child who feels safe and comfortable in her surroundings. She likes to talk and seems to have adopted Lisa and Joseph Popik, as much as they adopted her.
The Seven Hills couple first met Layla in November 2016, in Nanchang, a provincial capital in southeast China.
She grew up in an orphanage and came to them with only the clothing on her back. She spoke no English and had no formal schooling. Her biological parents abandoned her as a baby because of her short stature. Layla has a genetic condition called achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism.
“They actually found her on the streets,” said Joseph, a network engineer for GE Lighting. “We think the family just tossed her out of a car. She has weakness on her left side because of the injury.”
Layla is now a patient of the Akron Children’s Hospital Skeletal Dysplasia Center, which specializes in treating little people.
Joseph and Lisa are also little people. They married in 2009, moved into a ranch house and modified the kitchen with low counters, sink and stove. They found Layla through an international adoption service of Little People of America.
When Lisa first saw her on the adoption website, her Americanized name was “Savannah.”
After Joseph and Lisa arrived in China, an adoption worker brought Layla to the hotel where they were staying.
“Oh my God, she’s beautiful,” Joseph remembers saying.
“All of a sudden, it was real. There’s your little girl standing there.”
She was quiet at first.
Asked at her home recently to explain how she felt when they met, she paused and said, “I feel scared and shy.”
But she warmed up quickly. At the hotel, she had a bubble bath, put on clean clothes and nestled into a king-sized bed.
By day 2 she was referring to herself as Layla, and she never looked back, Lisa said.
“Before we met, she didn’t know Mom and Dad were little people – and she didn’t know she was a little person,” Lisa said.
They arrived home on Thanksgiving.
Joseph and Lisa taught her English, which she absorbed quickly. Layla started at Green Valley Elementary School in January. She does well in school, and receives special instruction in reading and phonics.
The center is one of the largest in North America and treats hundreds of patients with dwarfism.
“I’m going to be 46 in February and I’ve been seeing Dr. Weiner since I was 12,” said Lisa.
Lisa was adopted at age 8, just like Layla.
“We have that special bond,” said Lisa. “I tell Layla our mommies couldn’t take care of us, so they gave us to somebody else who could raise us and give us everything we need.”