When 5-year-old Jane Morehead tumbled off her bike in May 2017, it didn’t seem like a big deal. Jane’s dad was with her at the time, and both of them considered the fall a minor one. The whole family was surprised, therefore, when Jane had pain in her left shoulder the next day. At an emergency room (ER) near the family’s home in North Carolina, x-rays of Jane’s shoulder appeared normal. The doctor diagnosed a possible sprain and sent Jane home in a sling. As far as Jane and her parents were concerned, that was the end of it. …
“Other players and coaches don’t see the powerlessness behind my condition, or the struggles I’ve had to go through to get to where I’m at. They just see me making saves other people can’t make. It doesn’t matter if I have two arms, one arm or no arms. As long as I make the save, they don’t care.” – Piper Hampsch
Piper is one of the best high school field hockey goalies in the country. She committed to Duke University last year as a sophomore, and will be playing college field hockey in 2020. In case you don’t closely follow collegiate field hockey, Duke was #1 in the nation last year in the final NCAA rankings. Safe to say, Piper is exceptional in her sport, and other teams and players take notice. But many of the athletes she plays against are unaware that Piper was also exceptional at birth.
“People ask me if it’s harder to do certain things, and I always tell them, ‘I don’t know, this is all I’ve ever had.’” Despite being born with symbrachydactyly — a condition in which the middle three fingers of her left hand never fully developed — 12-year-old Ashley makes most things look easy. She runs cross-country, plays basketball and even competes on the uneven bars in gymnastics, all with a hand that sets her apart from most kids her age.
“We talk a lot about how everyone has differences,” says her mom, Juli. “I told her when she was little that her hand won’t ever be the same as others, but we can adjust and make compensations so she can do the things she wants to do.” And what does Ashley want to do? The answer to that seems to be almost everything.
Four-year-old Aiden Quinn is looking forward to his birthday celebration on Nov. 22. There will be plenty of cake, treats and friends. One friend sure to be right by his side is Aiden’s sidekick, namesake, best friend and travelling companion — his Aiden doll.
Aiden the boy was born with a radial longitudinal deficiency of his forearm and hand. He had no radial bone — one of the forearm bones in his left arm. The ulna — his other forearm bone — didn’t grow properly either, and his left thumb had no muscles or bones.
Aiden the doll is a hand-crocheted toy that sprung to life on April 18. The boy and doll share a name and a mission: raising awareness about limb differences.
“I wanted to find a way to connect kids with limb differences,” explains Aiden’s mother Jennifer.
Aiden the baby
A prenatal ultrasound showed the deformity in Aiden’s left arm. “I was scared and helpless and alone, and I needed answers,” recalls Jennifer.
The Long Island, New York mom started looking for specialty care for her unborn son. “The deformity is rare enough that doctors didn’t know about it, or they were intimidated by babies,” she says.
“It gave us peace of mind. He answered our questions, and we felt more secure,” Jennifer says.
Aiden the boy
In the last five years, Aiden has undergone six surgeries with Waters. The surgical goal for kids with radial ray deficiencies, says Waters, is to improve both function and appearance.
Those surgeries have not only repaired Aiden’s left arm and hand, they also have strengthened his character and inspired Jennifer to raise awareness about limb differences and provide support for families like hers. She created the Aiden doll to help her achieve that goal.
“Our son Aiden is happy, creative and goofy. He wears his heart on his sleeve and loves to sing and dance. He might be a bit headstrong, but that determination gets him through,” says Jennifer.
Jennifer hopes that Aiden the doll can help infuse a similar spirit of determination, strength and pride in other children with limb differences.
“I’m astonished by how Aiden manages to do things,” Jennifer continues. Aiden has found a way to peel a banana using his pinky and can even out-peel his 3-year-old brother.
Aiden the escape artist
Jennifer may not be the only one astonished by her son.
“Dr. Waters calls him his most trying patient,” jokes Jennifer.
Aiden managed to wriggle out of two casts placed after wrist centralization (correcting the significant deviation of the wrist) and thumb pollicization (making a thumb out of his index finger).
“One or two out of every 500 kids can figure out how to get out of a cast. Aiden is one of those kids,” says Waters. “It can be quite a burden for families like the Quinns, who aren’t close to Boston.”
Waters works a local orthopedic surgeon closer to the Quinn’s home in Long Island. The local physician manages some aspects of Aiden’s care, which helps the family minimize the number of trips to Boston for Aiden’s treatment.
Aiden the doll
As the Quinn family brainstormed ways to raise awareness about limb differences, Jennifer reached out to Tani Correia, a crochet artist who designed and donated two dolls to Limbtastic, the limb-differences awareness, support and advocacy organization Jennifer founded.
Tani mailed the dolls to the Quinn family, and Aiden promptly named the dolls after himself.
One doll hangs out with Aiden. They go to the playground and preschool together, and the doll even traveled with Aiden and his parents to his most recent appointment with Waters.
The other Aiden doll is a jet setter and travels across the U.S., visiting children with limb differences, spending a week with each family, who then record the visit in a notebook that travels with the doll.
“It’s amazing to see how many lives the doll has touched,” says Jennifer. In the summer of 2015, Aiden the doll traveled to Camp Joy, which is sponsored by Amputee Coalition, and met 115 campers and 33 counselors with a limb loss or limb difference.
“These kind of organizations and networks, with families supporting each other and working together to raise awareness, can really help children reach their potential and families realize they aren’t alone,” says Waters.
Learn more about the Boston Children’s Hand and Orthopedic Upper Extremity Program.