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Success Stories

Mikaela Nelson

February 15, 2019

Student Creates Dolls for Children with Prosthetics

Mikaela Nelson with dolls

Children love playing with dolls they can identify with. But for many kids with disabilities, it's difficult to find dolls that look like them. Mikaela Nelson ’19 is hoping to change that.

Nelson came to UHart specifically for the prosthetics and orthotics (P&O) program. “A creative, crafty person” as she puts it who likes math, science, and art, Nelson made the decision to pursue the P&O field in high school after shadowing a prosthetist (one who designs, fabricates, and fits artificial limbs).
Nelson is currently enrolled in the 3-plus-2 combined BS/MSPO program and will receive her Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics this May.
After interning at a pediatric clinic in her hometown of Buffalo, New York, during the summer of 2017, Nelson says she knows she will be well prepared for her profession after graduation.

Our program is very cutting edge. Interns from other schools didn’t have the technical skills or the fabrication knowledge we learn. A large portion of our program is actually working in the lab.”

Mikaela Nelson, '19

Despite her decidedly rigorous coursework, Nelson immersed herself in student life at UHart. She was a resident assistant (RA) and president of the women’s Ultimate Frisbee team. On top of it all, in 2016 she started the “Mickey’s Mission” project through which she creates custom dolls for children with prostheses, orthoses, burn scars, or other differences.
“At first, I was altering dolls and creating small prostheses for them, but now I use a 3-D printer and program the computer to make a bunch of parts that I can snap together,” Nelson explains. “I can print a head with a specific eye color and make hearing aids, glasses, wheelchairs, braces, everything I need. The prosthetics industry is experimenting with 3-D printing and I’m learning to do it on a smaller scale.”
While her class-work and project provide excellent career-related experience for the future, Nelson points to an additional experience as being equally important to her current and future success. “When I came to UHart, I was very shy and not very confident,” she admits. “As an RA, I had to put myself out there and help other students. That helped boost my confidence. Now I can speak confidently with all types of people.”
Nelson is currently applying for residency at various medical facilities across the country. Eventually, she hopes to open her own practice or join an existing one where children can come in for her orthotics and prosthetics services and also have the opportunity to leave with dolls that not only help them learn to take care of their prostheses or other medical apparatus, but also help them to feel better about themselves.

At press time, Nelson had been invited to Target headquarters in Minneapolis to participate in the application process for the Target Incubator program for young entrepreneurs with businesses that are making things better for people or the planet. If accepted, she will attend a summer program that will provide mentorship, learning sessions, and access to industry experts.