Aysha's Story

Simple idea of a girl with special healthcare needs named Aysha Jayne

Aysha Jayne was growing up as a happy girl. She played with her friends and hardly felt sick except for the many colds and sinus infections she had. Her pediatrician sent Aysha to see an ENT, who ordered a CAT scan, which would not only show Aysha’s sinuses, but her entire head.

Unexpected Diagnosis

When her mother, Julie, picked up the radiologist’s report she wasn’t expecting to find such serious concerns: the report suggested Aysha could have Chiari Malformation, meaning some of her brain tissue was extending down into her spinal column. It appeared she might also have Syringomyelia, a disorder in which a cyst or cavity forms within the spinal cord which can expand and elongate over time, destroying the spinal cord.
A brain MRI was scheduled right away. The MRI confirmed the radiologist’s disturbing conclusion. Although there is no cure for Chiari Malformation, surgery would be necessary to help her cerebral spinal fluid flow properly and hopefully resolve the cyst problem.
Aysha was scheduled for brain decompression surgery with Dr. Andrew Reisner on Monday, March 15, 2010 at Children’s Health care of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. This brave little girl had just turned seven, and the thought of brain surgery was very frightening for her and her mom. But Aysha's favorite stuffed animal friend, Puppy, went with her every step of the way, which helped.
She clutched Puppy tightly as they wheeled her away to the Operating Room and like every good Puppy, he was there by her side when she opened her eyes after the 4 1⁄2 hour surgery.

Recovering From Brain Surgery

Aysha and Puppy went to ICU where they stayed for five days. At first she was in a lot of pain and held Puppy even tighter than usual. Her neck was very stiff and hard to move because Dr. Reisner had removed the first two vertebrae in her neck, and part of her skull, and inserted a titanium plate in her head. For the first two days all she wanted to do was lie very still with Puppy and wish the pain away.
Once she had improved enough to get in a wheelchair, her family wheeled her around the Children’s Hospital and for the first time she saw kids without hair. She didn’t understand they had lost their hair because of chemotherapy to treat cancer, but she could tell they didn’t feel very good.
The surgery was a success and after six days Aysha went home! She had to be careful not to bump her head while she played, but that was okay. What she really loved to do was play with her dolls.
She had several American Girl dolls, including one with long dark hair just like hers she named Molly. Aysha began making short videos with her dolls to help her deal with feeling like she didn’t fit in at school, with Molly starring as Aysha. It helped Aysha to feel not so lonely when she was with Molly and her other dolls.

Tough Times Spark an Idea

During the next few years Aysha had five different surgeries and multiple CAT scans, MRIs and other procedures, all which would bring her back to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta where she kept meeting kids with so many different special healthcare needs, which had a deep effect on her.
Aysha realized that her disability was invisible, hidden underneath her thick hair. Seeing other kids with very visible disabilities she began to realize they didn’t have a doll that looked like them to comfort them. She came up with the idea of “Care Dolls,” which were for “children who have cancer or any disease that they had to lose their hair,” she wrote when she was twelve.

“To make your child happy and feel like they are not alone, and beautiful.”

These thoughts continued to grow in her mind until she had created a complete picture of a doll that could be altered to match whatever disability the child might have. She thought if kids with and without disabilities could play together more easily, they would grow to understand each other better.
Julie knew Aysha’s dream to make this doll wasn’t going away. And one very poignant day, with so many difficult life issues weighing down on them, Julie promised Aysha she would do everything in her power to help her daughter’s dream come true.
Julie and Aysha worked together for years to come up with more ideas for the doll. They had numerous meetings with people who said they wanted to help, but nothing ever really clicked.

It simply wasn't quite the time yet...

Geppetto's Great-Grandson

As Aysha was going through her surgery in 2010, not so many miles away was an artist coming up with another doll idea. Rick Harrison isn’t just an artist,
he’s a sculptor, a designer, an inventor and an expert in antique toys. He had always loved stories of his great-grandfather, a toy maker that kids called “Geppetto.” Rick collected antique toys, and frequently looked for the markings of Geppetto, hoping he might find something his great-grandfather had made.
One day he came across a boy doll made out of wood. He was fully jointed, with metal springs that had somehow never rusted even though it had been constructed in 1911. The amazing thing was this doll could move and pose in ways modern dolls never do, like sit with his legs crossed at the ankles and stand on one leg completely balanced.
Rick looked at the modern and very popular 18” vinyl dolls like American Girl that only bend at the shoulders and hips and wondered why a wooden doll over 100 years old could move so much more like a child.
That’s when he had an idea. What if he designed an 18” vinyl doll that could do what the old wooden doll did, and more? A multi-articulated 18” doll that could “use” all of the accessories the other dolls can only stare at. HA! It could work! He started drawing and experimenting, but as is so often the case, other things took priority.

And God Winked

Then a fourth person entered the picture. In 2017 a businesswoman named Marsha Roberts had a lunch meeting. She had been friends with Rick Harrison for many years and he had dropped her off at the restaurant and had gone to a meeting of his own. At the end of the lunch, the man’s cell phone rang. When he hung up he said, “This lady, Julie, has a daughter with special healthcare needs who has a great idea for a doll. We’ve been trying to help her, but one thing we don’t have yet is a doll maker. ”At that exact moment, Rick sat down at the table. Marsha’s eyes got large with wonder. “Rick IS a doll maker.” She felt like God had just winked at her.

And now it was time!

Aysha, Julie, Rick and Marsha met on March 15,2017 ~ exactly seven years from the day Aysha had her surgery. Several months later the two concepts combined with a real sense of destiny.
Aysha’s and Rick’s ideas are such a good fit because at many of the joints these dolls can be specially altered for limb-different children.

What to call these special dolls?

JUST FOR YOU! DOLLS

Perfect! Because they’ll be made JUST FOR YOU!

On January 18, 2018, Aysha’s Friends, Inc. sprang to life in the best city in the country to start a new, dynamic company: Chattanooga, TN.
The city has really gotten behind Aysha’s Friends, providing tremendous resources and guidance as the team put this unique corporation together.
As good ideas will, word of Aysha’s Friends grew and spread. Physical, Occupational and Recreational Therapists, Child Life Specialists and others in Children’s Hospitals, Clinics and Institutes have all expressed a tremendous need for a doll that moves more like a child. Rick is currently refining his designs for these specialty dolls, which will be made-to-order for the medical community.

Aysha Today

She's 17 years old and enjoying high school. But if you ask her to move her hair to the side or into a ponytail, you can still see the back of her head is indented and sagging where that section of her skull was removed. And she still can’t participate in many games and sports other kids take for granted.

Watching her dream come true has granted Aysha a unique perspective on her challenges. If she had not experienced Chiari Malformation, the surgery and all the procedures that followed, there would be no Aysha’s Friends.
It was because of everything she endured that led her to the idea of special dolls for special kids. And now she can hardly wait for the day when she can walk into a hospital and place a JUST FOR YOU! DOLL that’s been personalized into the arms of the special child who's been waiting for it.

That will be a very special day!

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