At 18 months old, Grace O’Malley was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2 (SMA2), a disease that affects “the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, taking away the ability to walk, eat, or breathe.” Since, Grace has spent the last nine years in a continuous fight for her life, making regular trips to the hospital that cause her anxiety. To help ease Grace’s fears, her best friend, Aoibheann Mangan, a self-taught coder, developed a special hospital app for her. Now their inspiring story of encouragement and bravery is being celebrated through the just released True Hero Hospital Doll from award-winning toy company, Lottie Dolls.
Like all real kid-inspired Lottie Dolls, the new True Hero Hospital Doll is based on the average proportions of a 9-year-old girl. Her hospital gown is emblazoned with the word Brave, and she’s holding her supportive teddy bear sidekick. She gets an added boost of courage by rockin’ a super cool cape. Her box comes with a QR code that takes you directly to the app that Aoibheann designed for Grace, one friend in support of another, one real-life hero backing up another.
Grace, age 10, who hails from Hollymount, Mayo, Ireland, is a true hero to many. Despite battling a debilitating disease, Grace mounted an unrelenting campaign in late 2018, pleading with Ireland’s Minister for Health to make Spinraza, a drug said to work on “50% of SMA Type 2 patients and significantly improves their life quality and life span”, available to the 26 children in the country with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Her fight resulted in victory. The Irish Government announced in July 2019 that all would be given access to the drug, paid for by the Government.
Aoibheann, now age 13 and a true hero in her own right, has spent the last five years coding for good. It’s a skill she taught herself… and the path was not easy. Living in a remote part of Ireland that lacked good mobile or fixed line broadband, Aoibheann’s mom had to drive her every night to the local supermarket parking lot so she could access their free WIFI in order to continue her education in coding. Nevertheless… she persisted.
At age 8, Aoibheann co-developed a website to teach kids about farm safety. Three years later, she developed her Holy and Henri Hospital App to help Grace and other kids who had similar fears about going to the hospital. It describes the ten main procedures that kids have when they arrive at the hospital, and she wrote it using the block-based visual programming language Scratch. The app earned Aoibheann, then 11, European Digital Girl Of The Year in 2017. And to make sure that no other kid – or adult – across the whole of Ireland would need to rely on parking lot WiFi to access the internet, Aoibheann challenged Leo Eric Varadkar, the country’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister/President), while passing him in a hallway at the 2019 Inspirefest Conference in Dublin. Six month later, Varadkar launch a country-wide implementation plan, crediting Aoibheann in his speech. Now, in her spare time, the teen STEM advocate, teaches coding to 50 kids in her hometown each week… 60% of her students are girls.
An homage to Aoibheann and Grace, the new True Hero Hospital Doll joins Lottie Dolls collection of other dolls inspired by real kids. She retails for US$24.99 – EU€24.99 – UK£22 and is available on lottie.com. $1 from the sale of each True Hospital doll purchased through the company’s site is given to Aoibheann to assist in funding her STEM advocacy work, and $1 is given to Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin, Ireland’s largest pediatric hospital.
Since the toy company’s August 2012 launch, Lottie Dolls have won 35 international toy awards and are available in over 30 countries worldwide. In 2015, Lottie spent 264 days on the International Space Station as part of the European Space Agencies Principia mission which took British Astronaut Major Tim Peake to space.