CLARK COUNTY, Ind. — At nine years old, Louisa Mae Dangler is learning the basics. She traces her fingers over homemade flashcards featuring a pattern of cut up straws to depict items small, medium and large in size. Then, she moves on to a stack of books created in braille, tracing the letter, 'A.'
It may seem rudimentary for her age, but Louisa's spent most of her school years in and out of doctor's offices.
We first met Louisa when she arrived in Louisville five years ago. Born blind, she spent nearly three years in a Chinese orphanage, until she met Donna and Jeff Dangler, who immediately knew she was the one who’d complete their family.
"She’s a book and we just saw the front and back cover and we said, let’s do this. And it’s been a great read ever since. It’s not been a easy read, but we’re just a few pages in," Jeff Dangler said.
"When we adopted her, we thought she was just completely blind," Donna Dangler said. "We were going to come home, put her in the blind school and live a kind of normal life and it didn’t end up that way. She was much sicker than what we realized."
She’s not only blind, but also non-verbal.
"When she got here, she was trying to speak and then she just kind of lost that," Donna Dangler said.
She’s developmentally delayed and suffers from both a swallowing disorder and silent seizures.
"When you have a child that can’t tell you what’s wrong, it’s brutal. So, we did the best we could," her mom said.
When Louisa first arrived, she couldn't walk, but that soon changed with help from community organizations like the Molly Johnson Foundation and a lot of hard work. Today, she can walk up to two miles on her own.
"For me to watch it, I get so excited, like okay, what’s next?" Jeff Dangler said.
Today, Louisa’s fearless and loving life.
"Her favorite thing in the world is to stand in the ocean and those waves hit her face," Donna Dangler said.
She also loves to ride her bike. It's become a family affair out on the front lawn.
It's a joy the whole family feels, "to know that she’s safe, secure, loved, fed and clothed," Donna Dangler said. "They’re crazy about her."
The Danglers have three adult, biological sons. When Donna and Jeff became empty-nesters in their early 50's, they wanted nothing more than to fill their home again.
They began the adoption process about 15 years ago, making separate trips to China to bring each of their four daughters home; Louisa is their youngest. The Danglers say they couldn’t imagine it any other way.
"She’s beyond precious and adds so much joy to our family. It is by far the hardest thing we’ve ever done," Donna Dangler said. "I can’t imagine life without her and I can’t think too hard into the future because that scares me. I’m like, what if? I can’t go there. I have to know truthfully, she belongs to the Lord and he will always care for her. At this point, we just love her and take care of her."
She goes to school for about 2 hours a week, at Borden Elementary, and the rest of the week, is home schooled with her 3 sisters.
You can keep up with the Danglers through an Instagram page created to spotlight Louisa and all her accomplishments, the ups and downs of adoption, and above all, her love of family.