BORN with congenital hearing loss, Bella Chislett was eight months old when she received her first cochlear implant, and had barely marked her first birthday when she got her second.
“It made a big difference, the small things like being able to hear a bird singing in the trees and me speaking to her,” says mum Jade of her daughter, now five. “We did a lot of intensive therapy and now her speech is average with her hearing peers.”
Also helping Bella along her path to greater resilience is her trusty doll Isabelle.
Isabelle has cochlear implants like Bella and was the prototype that inspired Mrs Chislett’s expanding niche business, Just Like You Dolls.
“Bella has always loved her dolls and been a little mother hen and when she was three I was looking at her playing and thought ‘I’d like to give you a doll that’s just like you’, because she used to put her own cochlear implants on the doll,” says Mrs Chislett.
So just before Christmas last year, she took a koala toy with cochlear implants gifted to Bella after her cochlear implant operation and took it apart. She removed the plastic implants, drilled holes into them, bought a new doll and used magnets to attach the implants.
“When Bella opened the present on Christmas Day she just squealed the first thing she said was ‘it has special ears just like me’.”
Mrs Chislett soon found herself making a doll with hearing aids for a girl in one of Bella’s therapy classes who had grown attached to a doll with aids she’d made for her second daughter, Evee.
“When I gave it to this girl, just the look of pure joy on her face, and her mum later telling me how much she adored it, I knew I had to do something more,” she says.
Spurred on by her hubby Josh, Mrs Chislett joined forces with his dad Michael to found Just For You Dolls. They source dolls from overseas then use a 3D printing machine to manufacture the medical device attachments, ranging from cochlear implants and hearing aids to glasses and a stoma and bag.
Customers can choose from one of 10 dolls then add one device or more to suit their child. Prices range from $25 to $150.
Mrs Chislett sews on the devices to each doll, and uses magnets to attach others.
Word of mouth is spreading. One of Bella’s support teachers has bought 15 dolls she says have made a “huge difference” in her classes.
Mrs Chislett’s business has had a positive impact in more ways than one for Bella.
“She’s far more aware of other hearing loss types and disabilities, and she helps me mail out the dolls,” she says. “People are hesitant to ask Bella about her cochlears but now she takes her doll out and she gets comments on how her doll has beautiful hearing aids and it opens a conversation and people are more comfortable,” she says.