Children are some of the most resilient humans on the planet. They survive grueling operations, debilitating diseases, and possibly some of the most awkward social situations known to man. Despite it all, children can bounce back with an optimism that the rest of the population finds absolutely astonishing.
Seven-year-old Hailey Dawson is one of those magnificent, resilient children. Dawson was born with Poland Syndrome, a condition where babies are born with missing or underdeveloped muscles on one side of the body. Because of the underdevelopment, the chest, hand, shoulder or arm can be affected.
Dawson’s Poland Syndrome caused her to be born with a right palm, but not all of the digits to accompany it. Internet searches led her mother, Yong, to the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), where engineers and students took on the challenge to build her daughter a hand that she could use.
“The project combines mechanics, robotics, and we get the added bonus of helping someone,” said Brendan O’Toole, a professor of mechanical engineering at the university. “It could make all the difference in the world of making Hailey more comfortable or safe.”
Dawson was to receive a Robohand, which is a 3-D printed hand that is tailored specifically to her needs. As well as being more accessible, a Robohand is also more affordable. It has a maximum price of $2,000, which is paltry compared to an actual prosthetic, which can go up to $30,000. When it was finished, Dawson had full control over the fingers in her hands.
“It was inspiring for me to watch the students when she first put that hand on and used it and what it meant to them,” Dawson’s mother said. “Not just what it meant to us, but to them to actually build it for her and for her to actually hold something. And they loved it, and I loved it.”
The Robohand also allowed Dawson to finally be able to perform one of her favorite activities – pitching a baseball. Her first pitch was at the same university that had brought her the robotic hand, at a game with the UNLV baseball team.
“She just loves throwing that ball out and when she did it for UNLV it was amazing and she just hammed it up big time,” her mother said.
Dawson loved it so much, in fact, that she decided that she was going to upgrade to Major League Baseball by throwing out the first pitch at an Orioles game. At first, Yong was unsure how she’d accomplish such a request – how did one ask for a favor of that magnitude? In the end, through a letter requesting the honor, Dawson was able to throw out the first pitch not only to her family’s favorite team, but also to her favorite player, Manny Machado.
Dawson didn’t stop there. Onwards from the Orioles came the Washington Nationals, and Dawson plans to be the first person to throw out first pitches for every Major League Baseball (MLB) team in the nation.
So far, 24 other baseball teams have responded with affirmations, such as the Detroit Tigers, Atlanta Braves, and the Boston Red Sox. Dawson will even go on to throw out the first pitch during the fourth game of this year’s World Series.
“Hailey’s inspirational story captured our attention and our teams have overwhelmingly embraced her goal to throw a first pitch at every MLB ballpark,” MLB Chief Operating Officer Tony Petitti said. “We are very happy that Hailey will begin her quest by throwing the ceremonial first pitch at Game 4 of the World Series.”
Dawson is an inspiring example of how far children can go if we let them dream.
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