LAND O'LAKES — The simple request of a Land O'Lakes girl is drawing international attention.
The request: that young heart patients around the world have a doll that is just like them.
At age 10, Lamaya Sakales has had three open-heart surgeries and numerous hospitalizations, owing to the fact that she was born with half a heart. The Oakstead Elementary School fourth-grader was born with a congenital heart defect known as a hypoplastic left heart.
Through it all, she always has relied on two comfort items: her favorite blanket and her American Girl dolls.
"They take my mind off of things and help me sleep," she said. "I think that American Girl dolls are fascinating. They teach me history."
Yet Lamaya did find one thing lacking in the dolls that, along with the books and magazines featured in the American Girl collection, have brought her endless hours of both education and entertainment. None of her dolls had a chest scar, thus likening them to countless young heart patients who have undergone surgeries for their conditions.
With this in mind — and inspired by the successful effort of a Wisconsin girl to create an American Girl doll with a diabetic kit — Lamaya started a Change.org petition addressed to the American Girl doll company.
The petition, launched in late December, now features more than 5,500 signatures from around the world. In addition, major media outlets like People and Seventeen magazines have featured stories about her petition.
Lamaya's story also has been featured on the ABC News website, the Good Morning America website and on the Daily Mail website in the United Kingdom.
"I'm inspired and amazed," said Christen Sakales, Lamaya's mother.
"We've heard from people in South Africa, Australia, the UK. … And we're getting notes from families whose children were born with congenital heart defects. They related to our experience."
The petition netted another response, this one from the American Girl doll company. American Girl representatives have reached out to the Sakales family, offering to open up a line of communication regarding the doll request and calling Lamaya "an inspiring and a true American girl."
"One out of every 100 babies is born with a congenital heart defect," said Christen Sakales. "If these young heart patients have this doll, then they won't feel so different. The doll could also spread awareness of their conditions among their friends."
Both Lamaya and her mother also support the creation of a scar kit as an American Girl accessory, one that would allow any young patient to place a scar on any part of the doll's body to correspond with their own.
"Many dolls look like their girls," Lamaya said. "My doll has earrings, just like mine. And she should have a scar."
Aside from continuing her petition as well as her studies at Oakstead Elementary, Lamaya has some busy months ahead. She will play the role of Belle in a musical children's theater production Beauty and the Beast in early May at the Acting Studio in Lutz. She also recently met with an adult survivor of the hypoplastic left heart condition, a connection made as a result of the petition. And in the future, Lamaya would like to become a history teacher, a career inspired by her interest in American Girl dolls.
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"I'm always so proud of her," Christen Sakales said.
"She's the bravest person I know. She's super."