KNOWN IN REAL LIFE AS:
Meet Wonder Girl at the FirstEnergy Akron Marathon, Half Marathon & Team Relay
on September 29.
View a course map.
Meet Wonder Girl
Layla Popik, Age 10, from Seven Hills, Ohio
Why Layla is an #ACHero: Layla was born in China with achondroplasia and brought home to the U.S. when she was 8 years old. Layla has worked hard to learn English and also how to overcome the challenges her condition poses. With a sunny disposition, Layla attends therapy sessions to build strength in her limbs while teaching others the power of positivity through her example.
Sidekicks: Her mom, dad and cousin, Ariana
When she’s not busy overcoming obstacles: Layla enjoys spreading happiness to others with her sweet, funny personality. She also loves to sing opera!
Did you know fact: Layla learned taekwondo when she lived in China. And, she can lift her right leg up over her head!
Layla’s Story: At 10 years old, Layla has covered more ground – figuratively and literally – than most ever will. Adopted from China, Layla has learned to speak English, understand a new culture and overcome physical challenges thanks, in part, to her loving family, a solid support team and a larger-than-life personality.
“We knew Layla had some form of dwarfism before we adopted her, but it wasn’t until we brought her home that she finally had a full medical exam,” said Lisa Popik, Layla’s mom. “The best way for us to care for our daughter was to understand her condition and give her the support she needed to develop and gain independence.”
Layla’s parents took her to the Skeletal Dysplasia Clinic at Akron Children’s where Dr. Dennis Weiner and his team evaluated Layla. The results from her genetic tests helped pinpoint her diagnosis – achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism, which impacts bone growth, particularly in the long bones of the arms and legs.
The doctors also noticed Layla’s left side was weaker than her right but felt physical and occupational therapy was the best course of action rather than surgery. And, since 20% to 50% of all children with achondroplasia experience neurological impairment, Layla’s doctors also wanted her to meet with neurology for an exam and MRI.
“We started her in therapy to help her improve balance and build up strength,” said Lisa. “We also met with her school to make sure they were able to help with Layla’s care and make accommodations where needed.”
Just a few months after her arrival to the U.S., at age 8, Layla started second grade at her local elementary school. Still only speaking Chinese, Layla began making new friends, meeting with tutors to learn English and continuing therapy to help with joint mobility in her hands, arms and legs.
“The school has been great in making accommodations so Layla can be as independent as possible at school,” said Lisa. “It’s very important to her that she’s able to do for herself rather than relying on others. She’s getting older and wants people to see her for all the things she can do on her own.”
Although Layla had avoided many of the health complications achondroplasia can cause, her parents began noticing interruptions in her breathing at night.
Layla’s parents brought her to the Sleep Center at Akron Children’s for a sleep study where they learned Layla had a mild case of sleep apnea.
“The doctors felt she could avoid using a machine at night if she had her adenoids and tonsils removed,” said Lisa. “I like having all her care at Children’s because I know everyone is on the same page and making sure Layla gets the care that’s best for her.”
Layla visits with her care team in the Skeletal Dysplasia Center twice a year for a comprehensive exam, including genetics, orthopedics, dietetics and therapists to monitor her growth, identify changes in health and determine if any treatment is needed.
“Layla loves all her doctors, and I think the feeling is mutual,” said Lisa. “Her doctors know her laugh before they even see her in the room…Dr. (Tsulee) Chen even gives her advice on where to find her favorite Chinese noodles, and which restaurants make them best…Now that’s personalized care!”