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St. David's Children's Hospital uses dolls made by volunteers to explain treatments

Nicole Villalpando
Austin American-Statesman
Child life specialists at St. David's Children's Hospital show some of the donated dolls from Women With Talent.
  • Women at Wimberley Church make 67 dolls for St. David's Children's Hospital
  • Kids can draw the expression on the doll based on how they feel

At First Baptist Church in Wimberley, the four core members of the Women With Talent group gather regularly to make things for other people.

"It's about the fellowship," says Donna Barkley, but a year and a half ago when Women With Talent first started, they wanted their group to have a bigger purpose. "We know there are needs in the community, and rather than just sit around and talk, we would love to make things." 

Women With Talent dolls come in different shades and colorful gowns. They are used at St. David's Children's Hospital to explain procedures to kids.

Lately, they've been making things for St. David's Children's Hospital in North Austin. They delivered 67 fabric dolls to the hospital this fall. hey are working on making Christmas pillowcases for kids who need to spend the holidays in the hospital. 

The fabric dolls come in five different skin tones and are about 10 inches long. Women With Talent developed a pattern, and they use a long arm quilting machine to trace the pattern into the fabric to make each doll easier to cut out.

They then stitch the dolls together, stuff them with batting and close up the dolls on the side. They also sew colorful hospital gowns for the dolls. 

Even during the pandemic, Women With Talent continued the work, first making things in their own homes and then gathering at a member's house but staying socially distanced. Now they've returned to the church, and Barkley says, "We're isolated but together." 

Litha Little, Frances Roth, Kim Tomlin and Patti Williams make dolls together as Women With Talent.
Donna Barkley and Frances Roth make pillowcases for St. David's Children's Hospital.

The dolls were requested by St. David's child life specialists to help kids through medical procedures. 

The dolls have no expression on their faces for a reason. "We allow the patient to pick out the doll, and they are able to personalize it," says Maggie Carroll, a certified child life specialist at St. David's. The dolls, she says, can take on how the kids are feeling. "They can draw a happy face or, if they are not feeling great that day, a sad face." 

They can use washable markers to change the expression on the doll based on how they are feeling. 

Carroll says she introduces the idea to kids by asking them if they would want to have their own patient. 

A big piece of what Carroll does is engaging kids in medical play to process what is happening to them. "It's a way to express how they are feeling," she says.

It's also a tool to explain a procedure that is about to happen to them, such as getting an IV or having a surgery, an X-ray or an MRI. "They feel like they have more of a control over it if they've already done it to their little patient," Carroll says. 

"Many kids are scared when they first come in," Carroll says. "Then they engage in medical play, and you can see the switch. They're not as scared anymore. … Medical play does help them express their fears, and we can help dispel their fears." 

The dolls mostly appeal to kids who are in elementary school, but Carroll says she's used the dolls with toddlers as well as teenagers.

Once a kid picks out a doll, it is theirs to keep. Carroll expects Women With Talent's initial 67 dolls will last through the holidays. 

Even though Women With Talent members don't get to meet the kids who receive their dolls or pillowcases, Barkley says, "People are appreciative of anything you do for them out of love." 

Alexia Pineda-Sorto customized her healing doll while she was in the hospital.

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