Frankee-Lee spent the first three years of her life in silence: she was born without ear canals or ear drums, a rare hearing condition called aural atresia.
Her mum, Emma, used to introduce her daughter by saying ‘Hi this is Frankee and she’s afraid of life’ Lee would shake and shudder and cry if anyone came near her.
“It was a scary world for her,” says Emma.
Determined to give her daughter the ability to hear, Emma fundraised $100,000 for life-changing surgery in the USA.
While the success of the surgery was a cause for celebration, Frankee-Lee missed vital stages of development.
“[It] is a really vital time as a toddler to be hearing all of that language and just putting it into your memory bank,” she says.
Frankee-Lee worked hard to catch up on everything she had missed out on, but when it came time to go to school she was met with another major challenge: the playground, a place where difference is rarely celebrated.
Her hearing aid, once a badge of pride, was a thing to be ridiculed.
“Frankee-Lee came home one day really upset that some kids were bullying her, laughing that she had a hearing aid and her confidence just went downhill from there,” Emma recalls.
So Emma went in search of a friend for her daughter, which led her to Laeni Kiriona.
Laeni is a Reborn Doll maker, so Emma ordered a doll with a hearing aid, just like Frankee-Lee’s. Laeni says it’s important for all girls to have a doll they can identify with and relate to.
When Frankee-Lee received her doll, and locked eyes on the hearing aid, that sense of pride she once had in her difference came rushing back.
Frankee-Lee and her doll have been best friends ever since. They do everything together: from getting dressed in the morning to going to sleep at night. And since practicing on the doll, Frankee-Lee now knows how to attach her own hearing aid to her ear.
“The effect that a doll can have over a child’s self-esteem, to me, it’s amazing that a doll can do that,” says Laeni.
Emma couldn’t have wished for a more positive outcome and is thrilled Frankie-Lee is loving life.
“We’ve shown her that it’s lovely to have differences and her baby is gorgeous just as she is.”
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