Photos and story by Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse, Air Force Public Affairs

Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley traveled to a Ukrainian orphanage, even dodging street protests, to adopt a 2-year-old girl. Since then, the tiny girl named Oleksandra has made remarkable strides.

Jamie’s husband, Master Sgt. Ernie Valley, and the couple’s children have embraced her as part of their family.

The Air Force couple expressed strong feelings about the need for good homes for orphans, especially in Eastern Europe. But, they wanted to give a better life to a child with special needs, who wouldn’t get the help he or she needed in their home country, whether or not he or she was adopted.

“You see these kids on photo listings, and, for me, they spoke to my heart,” said Jamie. “They don’t have the Americans With Disabilities Act (protecting them), so they don’t have ways to get on trains, to get into apartments; they don’t have elevators that are big enough for wheelchairs. There are no ramps into restaurants.”

They said they hoped their story will inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

“That little girl just won the parent lottery,” said Mark Tschampl, a long-time friend of the family. “She may not know it for a while, but (she) is going to have a fantastic life.”

Life in Ukraine wasn’t easy for Sandie. With a cleft palate and limited access to medical care, she was hand-fed the entire time she lived at the orphanage. Staff members would hold her steady and only feed her bread soaked in milk to avoid the risk choking on unthawed food. She wasn’t allowed to make choices for herself and despite being 2 years old, she wore clothing made for children less than half her age.

Despite that, it was love at first sight for Jamie. “I knew she was meant for us.”

In her first week in her new home, Sandie learned to chew, try new foods and even use sign language to ask for more food. While she used to eat in total silence, she came out of her shell and was very vocal about her desire for more food, causing her to gain a full pound in seven days.

Ultimately though, it’s all about giving Sandie a home.

“When she’s sad, she has someone to hug her.”

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