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Dolls with missing limbs give comfort to owners

Dolls with missing limbs give comfort to young owners

by Terri Lackey

What does a toddler with no arms do when her mom gives her a doll? She hugs it lovingly with her legs, of course. Especially this doll: a doll with no arms. A doll that looks just like little Emily.

Amy Jandrisevits, creator of A Doll Like Me, happened into the work of crafting dolls with limb differences, cuddly replicas of their recipients.

You could call it a Frederick Buechner moment. He is the theologian who famously wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

“Doll making combines my love of dolls and passion for social work,” said Amy, a former pediatric oncology social worker. Last October, Amy received a request from a woman to make a doll for her daughter, whose leg had been amputated.

“I’d never considered the idea, but it was a no-brainer,” she said.

The woman posted a picture of the doll on Facebook, and that photo sparked a business.

“I hate calling it a business, but three major limb-different organizations jumped on board,” said Amy, a member of Cross Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, Wis., and a contributor to Gather magazine, the magazine of Women of the ELCA. “I mean where can you get a doll with missing fingers or missing limbs?

“I have only sold these dolls via Facebook,” she said. “It’s entirely word of mouth.” Stories and photos of people who have received Amy’s dolls are posted on her Facebook page, A Doll Like Me.

By the end of November, Amy had more than 100 orders. And in December, a news video of a surprised and tearful young girl opening a package with her limb-different doll went viral. By Christmas, Amy had 200 orders.

That’s when she called in her mother, Christine Davis. Christine, Women of the ELCA participant at Trinity Lutheran Church, Hawthorne, Calif., taught Amy to sew and now helps her make dolls and clothes.

“My mom taught me to sew and she used to make dolls for me. I needed to be able to make a doll that was not overly complicated, and it needed to be soft, so the child could take it to bed,” Amy said.

With new orders pouring in—from Chile, Australia, England, Ireland and Canada – Amy needs the help. Even without the doll business, she’s busy. At 42, with young sons 10 and 6, she and her husband, Matt, are expecting a new baby girl.

Amy is a one-woman show except for the help she gets from her mother. Friends encouraged her to hire employees, but Amy said she feels that would take away the personal touch. “I like to sit and think about this child and try to figure out what they need to feel better.”

Amy said she feels it’s important that the children know their limb differences don’t define them.

“It is my heartfelt belief that dolls should look like their owners and dolls should be available in all colors, genders and body types,” she said. “When they get a doll that looks just like them, maybe they don’t feel so different.”

Her dolls are affordable, well under $100, and she makes them for girls and boys. “About every third doll order is for a boy,” she said.

“This whole experience has been so fun, as overwhelming as it can be. I love seeing the kids get their dolls, and it makes this labor of love worth it.”

Amy hopes that her customers understand that she might have to slow down her doll-making for a while when her baby girl is born.

“I’m just praying she is a good napper.”

Terri Lackey (Terri.Lackey@elca.org) is director for communication for Women of the ELCA.