Teen designs dolls for children with medical conditions

A California high school student is being praised for going above and beyond for children living with medical conditions, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

As part of her annual service project for her school’s National Honor Society chapter, Ariella Pacheco, a 17-year-old incoming senior at Cathedral Catholic High School, partnered with Fresh Start Surgical Gifts — a charity that covers surgeries and other medical treatments for children whose families have trouble paying for those procedures — to create dolls specifically designed for four local youth. The teenager told the newspaper she was inspired to do so after coming across an article about Milwaukee doll designer Amy Jandrisevits, who similarly creates custom dolls for children with disabilities through her “A Doll Like Me” project.

“I really value the beauty in the little things,” Pacheco explained, adding that one of her favorite moments as a child was receiving a doll that looked just like her. “Each of these kids are so unique, so special. I hope through these dolls they can see themselves in a new light and really embrace their beauty.”

According to the paper, the recipients of Pacheco’s dolls include Felix, a 6-year-old boy who has a scar on his head following a skull fracture repair; Andrea, a 2-year-old with a port-wine stain on her face; Valeria, a toddler living with Apert syndrome; and Zulema Gillett, a 21-year-old living with Goldenhar syndrome.

Gillett, who has a cleft lip, one ear and a misaligned jaw, said that she used to be bullied but found strength in her family. In 2016, her family found Fresh Start, which has covered about six of Gillett’s surgeries since.

“Who doesn’t want a doll that looks like them that they could relate to?” Gillett said. “It’s really nice and very thoughtful.”

Pacheco hopes that her dolls — which she created with the help of several doll-making tutorials on YouTube — will instill further confidence in Gillett and those living with medical conditions.

“I hope they’re really excited with them,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “The whole time I was trying to put as much love into it as I could and hoped they represented each child faithfully.”

Michelle Pius, chief development officer for Fresh Start Surgical Gifts, told the newspaper that she was “blown away” by the dolls, which were completed just recently in August.

“It was a very kind and big-hearted gesture on her part to make dolls that will help a child feel like they’re not alone,” she said of Pacheco.

In The Know was unable to reach Pacheco or Fresh Start Surgical Gifts for additional comment.

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