Eight-year-old Hailey Dawson set a goal to throw the first pitch at every Major League Baseball stadium—and she’s doing just that without a fully developed right hand.
Hailey was born with Poland Syndrome, which causes underdeveloped or missing chest muscles on one side of the body. Many with the disease also have hand abnormalities, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Hailey’s mother, Yong Dawson, says her daughter has a tiny pinky and thumb, with three nubbins in between.
Most research suggests that during gestation there was a lack of blood supply to Hailey’s pectoral area, which caused her right pectoral muscle to be missing and affected the growth of her hand. The exact cause of why this happens is still unknown.
The NIH reports Poland Syndrome is typically seen more in men than women. It is estimated to affect about 1 in 30,000 births, but researchers believe it is under-diagnosed. Poland Syndrome is not inherited and typically occurs sporadically. Hailey has an older brother who does not have the disease.
In 2013, the mother of two started looking at ways to help make her daughter’s life easier. Hailey has wrist movement in her right hand, but is not able to grasp objects. “What started [it] off for me was a functional issue,” says Dawson, who lives in Las Vegas. “She was starting to get on a bike and wasn’t able to hold both handlebars.”
She stumbled across an idea on Facebook: a robotic 3D printed hand. After more research, Dawson contacted the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) for help. She says a team at UNLV’s engineering department, including students, was more than willing to pitch in. “It was a learning process for all of us,” says Dawson, who admits the first model did not work as well as they had hoped. After trial and error—and the help of a hand therapist—the team eventually created a robotic hand that fit Hailey.
Not only does the robotic hand help Hailey grab objects, but it grows her confidence. “She puts this thing on and people are drawn to her. She eats that up!”
Now the family has the national spotlight—they started a quest last year for Hailey to pitch at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. Their dream spread quickly through social media. “She threw out a pitch for the World Series. Who gets to do that?” Dawson says.
Hailey threw the ceremonial first pitch at a Padres game in Petco Park in March. “The Padres couldn’t have been better. They were so nice to us [and] the players were amazing,” says Dawson, adding that the weather in San Diego was beautiful.
Schools are now inviting Yong to speak to students about Hailey and Poland Syndrome. She also uses the opportunity to help spread her message of asking for help when you need it. “Just ask! You never know who’s going to say yes,” says Dawson, referring to the willingness of UNLV faculty and students to help her daughter.
“It’s all about making your child believe they can do anything they want to do and achieve,” she says. “When I talk to [Hailey] about how she inspires people, she says ‘I’m just being me!’”
Hailey will enter third grade in the fall. She plans to throw her last pitch in September at the Angels game in Anaheim. Her mother says she couldn’t be prouder. “The girl is just fearless.”
To learn more about Hailey and her “Journey to 30,” follow along on Instagram or Twitter @haileys_hand.
Melissa Mecija is a freelance writer and mother of two. She is also a reporter/anchor for 10News, the ABC affiliate in San Diego.