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Fast Track to Their Dreams

Jennifer Griffin knows something about fighting for a dream, even when it seems unreachable. After a devastating infection led to amputation of her hands and legs, the 37-year-old Dallas wife and stepmom walked out of Medical City Hospital on a pair of prostheses after just two weeks in rehab. The experience was so profoundly affirming Griffin decided that she wanted to do something to help children. So, in 2008, Griffin launched P.L.A.Y., Positive Learning for Active Youth, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to facilitate activities for children with limb absences. If a child wants a personal trainer, or to go to a camp, or ride horses, P.L.A.Y. will make it happen.

Enter Ryanne Carr, an active 6-year-old North Texas girl born without a right forearm and both legs, who had always dreamed of running. Ryanne is one of four children adopted by parents Katrina and Mike Carr. Now, thanks to a pair of prosthetic legs, “she’s always in her running feet,” playing and hiking with her family. But still, the family faced challenges finding places for a child like Ryanne to get a real workout. In some cases, insurance policies can block participation because of “unnecessary” expense.

The Carr family was introduced to P.L.A.Y. through Don Cummings, director of prosthetics at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. Cummings knew that merely having the prostheses was not enough to help Ryanne run the way she wanted to. “We are still in a situation where the technology is there, but the outlets aren’t,” he says. The hospital treats more than 280 Dallas-Fort Worth kids each year for prosthetics. Cummings, who fitted Ryanne with her prosthetic legs, says children who use prosthetics need to be active in order to build muscle strength and help them adapt to new motor skills. Cummings, who uses a pair of prosthetic legs himself, adds, “It’s also important for their self-perception and quality of life.” When he met Ryanne, he knew the energetic tyke would benefit from a new organization called P.L.A.Y. “P.L.A.Y. is unique,” says Cummings, “because it’s geared to the region and to kids. It gets younger kids involved.”  

P.L.A.Y. helped Ryanne go to the Endeavor Games in June 2009, an annual event where athletes with disabilities compete. Ryanne has only had her carbon-fiber running blades less than a year, but they helped her earn seven gold medals in events such as the 400-meter dash against other kids who use prosthetics, and she added three more champion titles when she went on to the national competition.

Ryanne’s mom, Katrina, reflects on the remarkable impact P.L.A.Y. has had on her daughter. “It was a big self-esteem booster,” says Carr, “When other kids would ask her, ‘What happened to you?’ She would look up at me for help. Now Ryanne says, ‘I was born this way.’ She’s much more confident.” Says Carr, “She thinks now, ‘there’s nothing I can’t try.’ She’s already planning her next trip.”