FEATURE | Posted March 30, 2016

A doll like me

Pediatric cancer patient receives donated American Girl doll without hair

Photograph of Reese and her doll  © UC Regents
Reese Baker, who has childhood leukemia, poses with her doll, Tracy.

Reese Baker of Wilton, California, enjoys the first grade, being a part of her local soccer team and playing with her dolls. But since her diagnosis of b-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in October 2015, those things all look a little bit different.

She’s now homeschooled, can’t physically play with her soccer team and her favorite doll doesn’t have hair.

Photograph of Jacquelyn Kay-Mills © UC Regents“We wanted to give Reese a doll that was as distinctive as she is.”

— Jacquelyn Kay-Mills

Using grant money from the UC Davis Children’s Miracle Network, Reese received an American Girl doll without hair. CMN donates the dolls to UC Davis pediatric patients who are going through chemotherapy so they can experience treatment together.

“We wanted to give Reese a doll that was as distinctive as she is,” said Jacquelyn Kay-Mills, director of development at Children’s Miracle Network at UC Davis. “CMN grants offer amazing opportunities to change a life, and this program is an amazing example of that.”

Reese’s doll arrived the week of Christmas, and she named her Tracy Paisley Baker (Tracy after her first-grade teacher).

Mild symptoms linger, lead to leukemia diagnosis

Before her ALL diagnosis, Reese had minor symptoms — fatigue, low-grade fever, aches in her arms and legs, and eventually bruising. Her parents, Lisa and Chris, knew something was wrong. After a blood test revealed her platelets were critically low, Reese was admitted to UC Davis Children’s Hospital. She then was diagnosed and began treatment within the span of a week.

“When you receive a diagnosis like this for your child, it’s very sudden,” Lisa Baker said. “Everything in our lives changed.”

While the Baker family’s lives are now busy with doctor’s appointments and cancer treatments, they’ve remained upbeat. After hearing Reese’s prognosis, which is good, her parents learned her blood type was B+. It helped remind the Baker family to “be positive” and has become their motto in dealing with Reese’s illness.

Photograph of Reese and her doll during treatment at UC Davis Children's Hospital © UC Regents
Reese Baker celebrates Valentine’s Day with Tracy during treatment at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The family is grateful for the staff at UC Davis Children’s Hospital and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, saying there’s always someone available to help them with questions and concerns, or to cheer them up.

“Reese feels very supported — and we do, too,” Lisa said. “For as sad as this is, there have been many positives.”

Doll without hair is constant companion

One thing that’s helped keep a smile on Reese’s face is her doll, Tracy.

Reese brings Tracy to chemotherapy treatments and the Children’s Hospital if she’s admitted overnight. When she’s home, Reese loves to play nurse or doctor and runs a small pediatric doll hospital from her bedroom. Tracy is usually a patient, and Reese has converted a doll cart into a hospital bed and uses Ziploc bags with ribbon as an IV line and chemotherapy bags.

“These dolls bring a sense of normalcy to treatment and bridges something they’re familiar with from before their diagnosis to their current situation,” said Ellen Meuchel, child life specialist at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. “Often times, kids don’t have the words to express the complex feelings that come along with cancer, but the dolls are an outlet they’re comfortable with.”

Reese losing her hair wasn’t a big deal to her parents, but it has not been a big deal to Reese either, Baker said.

“The world is incredibly supportive of the specific needs of the cancer community and having a doll without hair helps normalize the cancer-causing hair loss to little girls and little boys everywhere,” Baker continued. “We’re so thankful to UC Davis, CMN and American Girl.”

Related story:

Toddler diagnosed with leukemia on third birthday