HARDY, Iowa — All Ava Myers wanted for Christmas in 2015 was a toy hospital bed to go with her Dr. Ava doll.

Myers, 8, of Hardy, suffers from mitochondrial disease. It affects her muscles, breathing and speech. She also has difficulty swallowing.

Her parents, Jenni Myers and J.D. Myers could not find a toy hospital bed in stores or online, so they decided to make one themselves.

“That’s what she wanted for Christmas,” Jenni Myers told The Messenger (http://bit.ly/2qZlLBC ). “She wanted a hospital bed and toys so she could play doctor with her dolls.”

J.D. Myers together with his son Jack Myers, 11, made the bed for her.

The bed is made out of a wooden frame and is adjustable just like real hospital beds, J.D. Myers said.

“It’s a lot of cutting and sanding,” J.D. Myers said.

Each one has different colored railings. The railings are made from plastic piping. The bed made for Ava Myers has pink sparkly railings.

“Ava’s favorite colors are purple and pink, so those are actually the only sparkly railings we have done,” J.D. Myers said. “Those took some extra doing.”

The bed serves as a prop for her 18-inch Dr. Ava doll.

Ava Myers wants to be a doctor when she grows up, according to Jenni Myers. She often plays with her doll and uses her toys to simulate hospital procedures, Jenni Myers said.

Dr. Ava will operate on other stuffed animals in the house if they are not feeling well.

“She has written stories about Teddy having problems breathing and Dr. Ava will come and save her,” Jenni Myers said.

Ava Myers was diagnosed with a chromosome disorder at the age of 1. But her family often wondered if she had another condition after medical problems persisted.

Eventually she was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease at age 3. Some mitochondrial disorders are fatal, while others don’t have much of an impact at all, according to Jenni Myers.

Other times, doctors aren’t sure what to expect, which is the case with Ava Myers, Jenni Myers said.

“There’s not a cure for it,” she said. “It’s more about system management.”

An in-home nurse works with Ava Myers during the day, allowing Jenni Myers to run errands.

J.D. Myers is a farmer and also does consulting work in the swine industry.

Ava Myers will be in third grade next school year. During her second-grade year she attended class in the Humboldt Community Schools, with teacher Zach Gotto, when able.

“If she is feeling well enough, she will go to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Jenni Myers said.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays a teacher from the school would visit the family’s home.

Ava Myers uses a communication device to talk, according to J.D. Myers.

“She can’t talk verbally,” he said. “She uses a touch screen and a piece of equipment that tracks her eye movement.”

When she stops her eyes long enough, the device clicks on an icon on the screen, he said.

Despite challenges, Ava Myers has performed well academically.

“She is smarter than we are,” Jenni Myers said. “She wants to be a doctor and she’s definitely smart enough to do it.”

Jenni Myers said she is at seventh-grade level math.

“The math she does in her head because she can’t use a pencil to write,” Jenni Myers said.

After posting photos of Ava Myers’ bed online, the family began receiving positive feedback. They decided they would make additional beds for other kids who might benefit.

“We never intended to sell them,” Jenni Myers said. “But we got quite a few responses.”

As a result, the family started an online store through social media and on Etsy, a website that sells handmade items.

J.D. Myers makes the beds at a shop in Humboldt. He usually builds between eight and 10 at a time, he said. Each bed takes about three hours to make. The beds sell for $120 plus $50 shipping.

“Shipping is pretty hard because it’s an oversized box,” Jenni Myers said. “We have to pad them pretty good.”

Some people have bought the beds and donated them to children’s hospitals.

Sarah VanOrd, of Humboldt, recently started a GoFundMe page to raise money for two beds to donate. VanOrd donated the beds to the Child Life program at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines.

Her daughter, Emma VanOrd, 8, is in the same second-grade class as Ava Myers. The two also share the same birthday — Oct. 14, 2008.

Sarah VanOrd said the beds help kids visualize certain hospital procedures.

“Seeing a little doll in a little hospital bed is an easy way to help children who are visual learners understand what will be happening to them during their stay,” VanOrd said. “It’s also a good way to help ease their fears.”

Through their online store, the Myers family has shipped Dr. Ava beds throughout the United States.

J.D. Myers said it’s neat being able to tell Ava Myers all the places the beds have gone.

“It’s always fun to tell Ava that these are being shipped to California or Colorado or Washington,” he said. “We went on a trip to Florida earlier this year and on the way down we went through a town in Tennessee that we had just shipped one to, so we were able to tell Ava that one of her beds was in town.”

The purpose of the beds is for kids to better understand hospitals.

“Kids like Ava who are in and out of the hospital can relate to things when they are home playing,” Jenni Myers said.

The Myers family has donated some beds to the Mayo Clinic Hospital — Saint Mary’s Campus in Rochester, Minnesota, but said they can’t afford to donate too many.

“Ava spent a lot of time up there, but donating is tough because we really don’t make much on them,” J.D. Myers said. “We just can’t afford to donate.”

They have also started making accessories to go with the beds.

“We make different kinds of vents, oxygen tanks, suction machines, and IV poles,” J.D. Myers said.

He tries to improve upon the items based on customer feedback.

“One person wanted the IV poles to be a little taller, so we adjusted that and are making them taller now,” he said.

Jenni Myers said the beds remain a unique item.

“I don’t think even now that you can find a hospital bed for 18-inch dolls that I know of,” she said. “That’s why we started this. We know we are geared towards a more specific population, and that’s OK.”


Information from: The Messenger, http://www.messengernews.net

An AP Member Exchange shared by The Messenger.

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CHAD THOMPSON
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