HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Music isn't just a hobby for 15-year-old Mia Panella; it is a way of life. Panella was adopted from Beijing at age 11, but it wasn't until several months later that her adopted family discovered that Mia was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome.
Williams Syndrome is a genetic condition that is present at birth and can affect anyone from any cultural background. It is characterized by medical problems including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays and learning disabilities. These often occur side by side with striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities and an affinity for music.
Mia's mother Betsy Panella said that the language barrier made communicating difficult.
"When we were in China, it was very scary," Mrs. Panella said. "We knew something was wrong. We couldn't communicate with her and it was all very scary. But [Mia] could sing back to us almost immediately."
Larry Panella works for the University of Southern Mississippi as an associate professor of music and director of the jazz studies program. He also started a music therapy camp at Southern Miss with the Williams Syndrome Association to help spread awareness.
"It's interesting because if you were going to give a syndrome to the Panella family, you couldn't pick a better syndrome to give to us," Mr. Panella said.
Williams Syndrome makes it hard to learn and retain basic things, but music has been the greatest teaching aid of all, which fits perfectly into the Panella lifestyle.
"It's really interesting to see how it works. My sister and my dad have a rap about the different coins," 15-year-old sister Rosemary Panella said.
Music will continue to be an integral part of helping Mia fit into her new home and new family.