At first glance, you might not notice anything different about 10-year-old Emma Fletcher.
She glows with energy and innocence. But if you look beyond her curly blond hair and shimmering smile, you’ll see that she wears a prosthetic on her right leg — the result of a rare birth defect that she has lived with her entire life.
Emma is a happy and athletic 10-year-old, but the reality is that her condition isn’t one that you’re likely to see reflected on the dolls at your local toy store.
So you can image Emma’s surprise when her little sister presented her with a brand-new American Girl doll that had … some special features.
When Emma first opened the box, it looked like any other doll…
(And like any other kid, she was annoyed and confused with her mom’s insistence that she read the note that came along with the gift. Ugh, parents.)
But when she tore the box apart, Emma realized she had more in common with her new toy than just blond hair.
As she burst into tears, she exclaimed:
Emma’s parents bought her an American Doll with a customized prosthetic leg — just like hers.
The doll came from a New York-based company called A Step Ahead, which offers their customization services for free — you just provide the doll. As they explain on their website:
“We feel that it is absolutely crucial to boost the self-confidence, self-esteem, and feelings of inclusion for little girls with limb loss, and that something as small as a doll that resembles them can have a profound effect on their mental and physical well-being.”
The “doctors” who performed the amputation and prepared the doll’s new prosthetic leg even included a personal note for Emma to read when she opened her gift:
That “life without limitations” part is really the crux of this whole heartwarming story.
Emma is just one of nearly 2 million people in the United States living with limb loss. Prosthetics have been around for hundreds of years, and newer medical advancements are making it easier than ever for people to lead fulfilling lives, unimpeded — and sometimes, enhanced — by their amputations.
So it’s not that kids like Emma can’t connect with toys or celebrities or fictional characters who don’t have prosthetics. They can, and they do.
But they also shouldn’t have to feel alone.
When people who might feel alienated finally get to see themselves represented in the world, it means the world.
Small gestures like this doll help kids like Emma feel like they’re not alone. It lets them know that their experiences and struggles are real, and that they matter.
Check out the full emotional video of Emma opening her new gift below:
Just … maybe grab like 10 box of tissues before you hit play. You’re gonna need it.
Thumbnail photo via Courtney Fletcher Bennett/Facebook.