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"Ella," helping kids to deal with chemotherapy
"Ella," helping kids to deal with chemotherapy
Aleksandra Lewinska

BYDGOSZCZ - Five-year-old Dobrusia has been in the Pediatric Oncology Division at Jurasz Hospital in this northern Polish city for a week now. “We are still waiting for the diagnosis, so we are not sure what to expect,” says her mother.

As she and her family anxiously anticipate her exam results, Dobrusia spends much of her time in the hospital playroom. Her favorite doll, Ella, has big blue eyes, a perfect body and a collection of pink dresses. But this Barbie doll also has a lot in common with the little patients visiting the playroom — a set of wigs and head scarves.

Jurasz Hospital is the only one in Poland to host this special edition of bald Barbie dolls, officially named Ella, Barbie’s new friend.

The toy was created after two American women, Beckie Sypin and Jane Bingham, created a Facebook campaign in December 2011 called “Beautiful and Bald Barbie! Let’s see if we can get it made.” Their children had been confronted with post-chemotherapy baldness, either their own or their parents’.

After having registered 150,000 likes in 2012, the Facebook fan page gained the attention of toymaker Mattel, which promised to produce the doll within a year.

“When we learned that the Barbie dolls were to be created, we wrote to Mattel asking for one,” says Magda Laska, the hospital’s spokesperson. “We waited for the response from February to June, but it was worth it.”

The toymaker recently donated 12 of the limited-edition dolls, which can't be purchased in stores or on the Internet, to the Pediatric Oncology Division. The hospital had to sign an agreement that it would not sell any of the dolls. Mattel explained the company's reasoning on its official Facebook page. “After thoughtful consideration, we made the decision not to sell these dolls at retail stores, but rather to get the dolls directly into the hands of children who can most benefit from the unique play experience."

Dobrusia's mother says the little girl doesn't ask why the doll has wigs, at least not yet. “But I am sure the day will come, and then I will explain to her what chemotherapy is and what may happen to us,” she says.

Magdalena Wojtkiewicz, a psychologist from the Pediatric Oncology Division says that telling children about their disease is a process, not something to be attempted in a single conversation. “What is ultimately important is that the child knows the name of the disease, that the treatment is called chemotherapy, and, more or less, what its side effects are. That is when the doll may be useful.”

But she says she regrets that this Barbie won't be commercialized. A bald Barbie next to a bride Barbie? “Why not? The disease may happen to anyone. It is a part of life. We should break the taboo.”

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