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Innovation and Research

It’s More than a Doll: The Value of Seeing Yourself in the World

Mari Featured Photo

There is tremendous power and reassurance that can be derived from seeing yourself out in the world.

Whether it’s on television, in a movie or in a toy we play with, seeing ourselves or someone like us is a welcome reminder that we’re not alone. That we’re all part of the same human story.

In a time where many may feel disconnected, the providers at Gillette Children’s are going out of their way to remind our patients and their families that we see them and that their inclusion matters. This is happening in a variety of ways, but let’s start with a girl named Mari and her new doll.

The Gift of VisibilityMari Bikign

Mari is seven years old and was born with a condition called brachysyndactyly, which is a complicated way of saying that she was born missing most of the fingers on her right hand. She’s been a patient at Gillette Children’s for years, where she’s worked with her certified prosthetist orthotist, Michelle Hall in the Orthotics, Prosthetics and Seating (OPS) department to design a prosthesis that allows Mari to complete daily activities, as well as ride a mountain bike.

“First off, Michelle has been fantastic and Mari’s prosthesis and the things it has allowed her to do has done wonders for her confidence,” Mari’s father, Josh says. “You wouldn’t know it from watching her ride her mountain bike, because she’s absolutely fearless when it comes to that. But she’s also shy sometimes, especially when it comes to her hand and the questions kids can ask.”

Over time, we’ve learned more about the detrimental effects that rarely seeing someone who looks like you represented in the culture can have on a person, but what happens when you never see yourself represented, or if you do, it’s a stereotype that can do more harm than good?

For many Gillette families, this is the reality.

“I think many of our patients and families struggle with the daily task of explaining themselves,” Hall says. “It might seem like a little thing, but it can help to have something you can point to and say, ‘See, that’s me.’ It’s affirming just for the child, but it also gets the ball rolling when talking to other people about it, because they’ve seen it too.”

Knowing that this was something Mari had occasionally struggled with, Hall and the OPS team at Gillette Children’s came up with that something that might get the ball rolling in the form of a slightly altered, American Girl doll.

An American GirlMari, her doll and her bike

In recent years, more brands from American Girl, Barbie and a variety of others have been trying to bring to market increasingly diverse products that speak to a customer base that has long been underserved. Other organizations like Minneapolis-based retailer, Target, have also had great success with their adaptive clothing and Halloween costume lines.

What most have found is that the demand for such products is high.

These are all positive signs that physical differences are being considered and represented, but for a condition like an individual hand difference, we haven’t quite gotten there yet. Luckily, the folks in OPS at Gillette are very good at what they do.

“The American Girl dolls we have at Gillette were donated several years back and are distributed based upon individual need. For the children we think it might help, we alter them slightly so that they look more like the patient we’re giving them to,” Hall says. “For Mari, this meant altering the fingers on the right hand of the doll and fashioning something that would look like the prosthesis she wears. Seeing that Mari loves to bike, we wanted to get the doll on a bike as well, but the doll's knees don’t bend, so we had to get a bit creative.”Mari Collage

Happy News for the Holidays

Once Mari’s doll was complete, it was delivered to her family. As you can likely see from the photos, it went over pretty well with Mari.

“It’s only been several weeks of course, but I don’t think that the doll has left Mari’s side too often,” Josh says while laughing. “We’ve always been appreciative to Michelle and Mari’s other providers at Gillette Children’s, primarily because they recognize that the little things matter. Like a lot of people, we’re doing virtual schooling right now and the past year has been tough on everyone. For the team at Gillette to do something like this for our daughter, especially with everything else that’s going on, it means more than they likely know and we’re very grateful."

Mari and her father, Josh

Mari and her father, Josh

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