An avid collector of the America Girl dolls, student Emilee Russell, 12, was thrilled a couple of years ago when she got the “Just Like Me,” American Girl doll. It was one that was supposed to look just like her, and it did - well almost. There was one small difference though. Emilee was born deaf and now has two cochlear implants. She wanted a doll that really was just like her. So in 2010, when her fifth-grade teacher, Jennifer Barr, was instructing the class on letter writing, Emilee knew just to whom she wanted to write.
“She decided to write to American GIrl and persuade them to have hearing aids as an add-on for the American Girl dolls,” Barr said. “Guess who did a good job persuading!”
Dear American Girl,
Hello there! My name is Emilee Russell, I am in 5th grade. I am just about to turn 11 on Oct. 3, 2010. I just got a “Just Like Me” doll with my money. I am deaf. Did you know that I was the youngest and 100th to have surgery and cochlear implants? I was wondering if you ever thought about making cochlear implants and hearing aids for the American Girl dolls? I think it would be neat to make them. It could be just like the glasses, wheelchairs, braces, and so on. Will you think about it? Thank you for your consideration.
At that time American Girl already had a line of accessories for the American Girl dolls that included glasses, wheelchairs, braces etc., but no hearing aids. Emilee hoped her letter would persuade them to add hearings aids to the line.
Recently, when she received her American Girl catalogue, Emilee was thrilled to find that hearing aids had been added to the accessory line.
“By the way I was screaming, you would have thought I'd won a million dollars,” Emilee said. “I was just so excited that someone was listening.”
Sherri Russell, Emilee’s adoptive mother, said they are not sure how much of an influence her daughter’s letter had in getting the new accessory for the doll, but they like to think it did have an impact.
“When we went to get the hearing aids added at the American Girl store, they told us that they believe it likely did have some influence,” Russell said, adding the staff at the store took a copy of Emilee’s letter. “They couldn’t say for sure how much, but said she definitely played a part.”
Emilee believes her letter did have an influence and said she hopes it inspires others to speak out about things that are important to them.
Russell said after being born deaf, Emilee – at just 14 months old - became the youngest person at Children’s Healthcare to get a cochlear implant. She had a second one implanted at 5 years old.
“In the beginning we didn’t know there was anything wrong with her hearing,” Russell said, adding Emilee had been a baby when she was adopted. “One day when we went into her bedroom, she was in the crib and wasn’t facing us and didn’t see us come in. When we called her name, she didn’t react and we knew then something was wrong.”
After getting confirmation through an Auditory Brain Stem Response test that Emilee was indeed deaf, the Russells went ahead and opted for the surgery. They are glad they did, as is Emilee. As a rising seventh-grader at LMS, Emilee is a mainstream student who does well at school. She also has an active extra- curricular schedule and enjoys reading and water skiing in her spare time. Emilee said she would like to be involved in some sort of fighting, maybe wrestling, in the future - but her mother isn’t so sure.
“We’ll see when she gets to high school – you know how they change their mind at this age,” Russell said.
Judging by her determination up until this point, though, if Emilee wants to wrestle she is likely to find a way to do it.