Girl and doll sitting together with prosthetic limbs
Girl and doll sitting together with prosthetic limbs
Community, Inside scoop, Learning 3 minute read

Dolls with prosthetic limbs empower kids

By American Girl Mar. 24, 2020

A Step Ahead Prosthetics—one of the country’s leading prosthetics companies—was founded in 2001 by world-renowned prosthetist Erik Schaffer. Driven by the company’s motto—Live Life Without Limitations—Erik and his expert staff are committed to providing their patients with the best in prosthetic legs, arms, and hands.

Erik’s foray into customized American Girl dolls began several years ago, when he first started modifying dolls with handmade prosthetic legs for his daughters.

One of Erik’s first patients to receive a modified American Girl doll was a young girl named Fiona. Fiona was born six weeks early with Truncus Arteriosus (a congenital heart defect), Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency (PFFD), and Fibular Hemimelia—a congenital condition where part or all of the fibula bone is missing. Fiona’s left leg was amputated when she was four, and it was around this time that her mom, Jennifer, learned about A Step Ahead Prosthetics.

“When Fiona was in her early stages of being an amputee, I searched and searched for toys that represented her new reality,” says Jennifer. “I asked Amy (Palmiero-Winters, Director of Operations at A Step Ahead) if she knew of anything out there in the amputee community that I did not have access to. We had a great conversation about the importance of play and identifying with your toys and how they affect your imagination and role-playing.”

“A few months later, we got a phone call from Amy saying she would like to present Fiona with an American Girl doll—leaving out a minor detail that she was customized to be EXACTLY like Fiona! It was quite the day for all of us as a family. To know a business went to such lengths to do something for your child is so humbling. We have a custom here in our family that we name toys/dolls after the people who give them to us. Hence, Fiona’s American Girl doll was named Amy that day."

Footage of Fiona receiving her modified doll was posted on A Step Ahead Prosthetics’ Facebook page and quickly they were flooded with requests for dolls from parents of children with limb loss all over the world. Although he already had tremendous time commitments to his patients, as a parent and philanthropist, Erik couldn’t refuse their pleas for help. He decided then that A Step Ahead would modify American Girl dolls for any child with limb loss, always free of charge.

Applying the same ingenuity and attention to detail that he gives to fabricating real prosthetics, Erik developed new methods for streamlining production of doll prosthetics while ensuring that they would be up to the same exacting standards as the handmade prosthetics he made previously. Today, A Step Ahead has modified over a thousand American Girl dolls for children with limb loss and plans to continue to do so as part of their mission to help kids gain self-awareness and acceptance.


When asked what it means to have a doll that looks like her, Fiona says, “it’s fun because I get to play with her with my friends. And we treat our American Girl dolls like they are old friends, just like us. Their dolls look like them and mine looks like me. And that’s what makes us all special. It’s cool to have Amy, because I have a doll that has a leg that can come off just like me. I like that Amy can be a teacher and a doctor and a ballerina. Amy is smart like me and likes to read books like me. Amy and I can be anything we want to be when we play and that’s why she’s so special.”

Echoes mom Jennifer, “I realize how cliché it sounds, but it quite honestly means the world to her. It has given her confidence, a sense of importance and worth in her world of play, and an equal playing ground with her peers. She brings her Amy doll with her on playdates and her peers can ask all the questions and explore the life of an amputee through play. Quite honestly, it has opened up her world to so many possibilities and helped her friends to come to terms with the fact that Fiona (through Amy) can do everything they do, just a little differently.”

To read more about their doll prosthetic story or to inquire about having an American Girl doll modified for your child with limb loss, visit our friends at A Step Ahead Prosthetics.


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