What started out as a hopeful but crazy dream became a reality on Sunday thanks to the perseverance of a little girl and her parents, the heart of the MLB, the dedication of a UNLV graduate student, and a tweet by Bleacher Report.
Hailey Dawson was born with Poland Syndrome, which caused the fingers on her right hand to be underdeveloped. Faculty and students from UNLV’s Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering have been working with Hailey since she was five to design and print robotic hands to help her grab, grasp, and throw.
“Watching Hailey, she’s just a little girl doing her thing and having fun – proves to anyone that there are no excuses; anything really is possible,” said Maria Gerardi, mechanical engineering graduate student who has been working on Hailey’s hands since almost the beginning. “It’s a great feeling to know my four years of hard work have led here. I’m so humbled.”
Hailey and her family have used their love of baseball to draw attention to Poland Syndrome and the potential for cost-effective, 3D-printed prosthetic solutions for children. Hailey threw out her first pitch at a UNLV Rebels game when she was five-years old. Pitches for the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals followed. Then, last fall, the Bleacher Report picked up Hailey’s story and Tweeted out a video asking all MLB teams to help her meet her goal of throwing out the first pitch at all 30 parks.
They all responded “yes,” and the Dawson family spent spring and summer traveling around the country, celebrating America’s favorite pastime and educating the public about Poland Syndrome.
“It took this community of people to help a then five-year-old build her confidence and self-esteem to where she is now at eight,” said Yong Dawson. “It took this community to help Hailey inspire other kids and adults. UNLV did this for her. Major League Baseball did this for her. All 30 teams, the players, and staff did this for her. Her family and friends did this for her. Hailey’s confidence and positive spirit will continue to grow and the possibilities are endless for this kid born with Poland Syndrome.“
Because of the publicity Hailey’s story has received, other families are now working with UNLV and their own local universities to develop solutions for their children.
On Sept. 16, Hailey completed her “Journey to 30” at Angels Stadium before the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners game.
Celebration at Rebel Homecoming Festival
UNLV will continue to celebrate Hailey’s achievement with alumni, staff, and the public from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 18 during UNLV’s Rebel Homecoming Festival. Drop by the College of Engineering’s booth on the Academic Mall between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. to celebrate with Hailey, and any other time during the festival to see the hands and meet students and faculty who have worked on them.