Andree Dayley 2

Andree Dayley, who graduates from Ridgeline High School this week, holds Rocky, her pet bichon frise.

Long before Norm and Zina Dayley visited a Russian “baby hospital” looking for a little girl to add to their family, Henry David Thoreau reportedly said “it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

And indeed, when the couple was first introduced, via videotape, to their daughter, they loved her immediately.

“We knew going over that she wasn’t in great health, Zina said. “But when we zoomed in on her face, her eyes sparkled and we knew we needed to get her home.”

Andree, who is now graduating from Ridgeline high school this week, was tiny at birth and undernourished as a toddler. When the Dayleys arrived in Russia, she was 18 months old and weighed just 13 pounds. She lacked the physical strength to sit up. She couldn’t crawl.

All she did was eat and sleep, eat and sleep, Zina said. Their pediatrician explained to them that the baby girl was in survival mode, using every ounce of her energy just trying to live.

“The judge wanted us to believe she was a less-than-perfect child, she called her a vegetable basically,” Norm said.

Perhaps the judge looked but did not see the tiny little child whose sheer determination would carry her through every obstacle life threw her way. She is quiet but not timid, and she has no problem asking for the help she needs to succeed.

“Every single challenge, she has either gone over it, around it or dug under it,” Zina said.

The Dayleys worked closely with her pediatrician from day one to provide her the proper nutrition without causing undue stress to her little body.

She started occupational and physical therapy as soon as she got home.

During her middle school years, she experienced problems with her eyesight that left her nearly blind until her parents were finally able to find the proper treatment for her.

Until then, she managed to navigate her way around the school, up and down the stairs, through the crowds, and to and from her classrooms.

Last fall, Andree got the all-clear to sign up for driver’s ed and get her license — naturally, that makes her eyes sparkle even more.

Andree is an artist, taking every opportunity to learn new forms of art. She has written and Illustrated a children’s book for an AP art class.

She signed up for an online BYU course where she is studying the Russian language, and when her parents suggested she might like to take ballet or dance, she went her own way and signed up for karate instead.

“Her teacher said she manages to make karate look graceful,” Zina said.

Perhaps the greatest show of her determination is Rocky, a 7-year-old bichon frise.

She pointed at her father with that sparkle in her eye.

“I was asking this man right here for five years if I could have a dog,” she said.

All those years, she did her homework. She selected that breed for its easy temperament, its size and its very loving, loyal nature, she said.

They are not an easy breed to find, and she spent months trying to find one to no avail — until the day her grandparents visited from Idaho.

It just so happened that their next door neighbor not only had the breed but also a purebred litter of puppies.

Rocky was supposed to be her emotional support animal, but it turns out that Andree is his human.

After she graduates this week, Andree plans to continue taking college courses through BYU, although her mother fully anticipates she will eventually end up on campus.

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Amy Macavinta is the crime reporter for The Herald Journal. She can be reached at amacavinta@hjnews.com.