talks to Andrea Harrison, a 57-year-old leg amputee who knits amputee dolls to help children and adults come to terms with their disability
A 57-year-old British grandmother of three, whose leg was amputated over six years ago, is offering love and support to children who have also lost limbs by making personalised dolls for them that reflect their unique circumstances.
The idea grew from a Facebook community for amputees that Andrea Harrison joined, in order to find support herself. “My first doll came about because a mum was on Facebook saying her daughter was finding it difficult not being able to join in with her friends at school because she had grown — and her prosthetic leg wasn’t fitting well,” Andrea tells Feelgood.
“At the time I was just crocheting bits of nothing much, just to keep my fingers busy, as you do. I added a comment to her post asking if she would mind if I could make her daughter a doll, one with a removable leg like hers. She had said her daughter was fed up with being different and I asked what colour hair and eyes she had and which leg was her amp leg. That was my first doll.”
That was last May, and Lincolnshire-based Andrea has created 100 unique ones since then, with each taking about three days to make.
The response, when pictures were put up, was so positive that the orders started pouring in, including from adults. “I was kept busy making pirate dolls, dolls with below-knee amps, above-knee amps, arms missing, both legs missing — all sorts. They have been made so that people could explain to their children or grandchildren what’s happened and I’ve made them for people to take into school to explain to other kids why their child has bits missing.
“Some people have said to me how important the doll has been to them accepting their amp or issues around their amputation. I don’t charge for the ones for the children but most of the people want to pay something. At the time, when I started, I was looking at getting an iWalk — this is a hands-free crutch — so I suggested people sent a donation towards me being able to get one of those.”
Further donations are going towards a ramp for her house, as Andrea had a fall over a year ago on the steps leading into her bungalow home. “It was the first time I had fallen since my op. I luckily hadn’t done any major damage but I couldn’t use my leg for about eight weeks which made me totally wheelchair-bound and reliant on others to get in and out of my own front door and it took at least me eight months to fully recover.”
While she made the decision to have her leg amputated at age 50 rather than leave it until later, after 35 years of suffering from diabetes, Andrea has just gone on with life. Joining a Facebook community, in her case Amputee Friends UK, has been a huge support. “We all agree we find out much more from other amputees online than from medical people,” she says.
“It has been brilliant, it gives you a sense of not being alone, there is help, support, and answers to all sorts of issues. There are some amazing people on these sites — some funny, truly inspirational but all a great bunch of people.
“I would advise anyone faced with amputation to join or at least have a look as these groups. There are people like myself who had time to decide it was right for them.
“There are those who have faced the shock of waking up to find bits missing and people have faced every variant of amputation imaginable, parents having to make decisions for their children, honestly, everything you can think of. Some very amazing people.”
As each doll is unique, she doesn’t use a pattern. And although one person has already offered to make some for her, she feels “it wouldn’t be the same getting someone else to do them. I feel I kind of know every one of the people I have made a doll for and they are now all friends.”
The act of crocheting and the personal feedback for her creations is a therapy of sorts, she agrees: “I do hope that I am a positive person. I hate wasting time worrying about things I cannot do a lot about; life is all about what gets thrown at you and how you cope with it all,” she says. “But if I do have bad hair days I get my teeth into a new doll. And because I don’t like letting people down I have no time to brood.
“Making the dolls has been great fun — getting them right for each different person — but the best bit is getting everyone’s comments from how they like them to how they’ve helped. I get a huge buzz from knowing they can help — positivity breeds positivity. It’s quite selfish, really.”