‘I remember a very emotional but happy moment at our first Aussie Hands picnic when Claire was about 3 years old. This was the first time Claire had met someone else with a hand difference and the memory of her face lighting up when she realised there were other people like her, still brings tears to my eyes.’ – Claire’s mum Danielle remembering their first Aussie Hands Event.
Before Claire was born, Danielle had suspicions of something being wrong during one of her ultrasounds, but the doctors just put it down to a poor quality image and didn’t investigate further. Soon after Claire’s birth, the Limb Clinic at Westmead Hospital gave Danielle an Aussie Hands brochure and they have been members ever since. ‘Connecting with other people who understand the emotions you go through, particularly in the first few years, is such a great support,’ said Danielle.
When Claire was young, doctors recommended surgery to separate her thumb from the other fingers, which are all joined, as the ‘mitten hand’ grip would provide more benefit than just a palm with the digits joined together. Danielle is happy that they proceeded with the surgery: ‘It’s made such a difference to Claire’s life and allowing her to do so much.’
‘There was an option of doing further surgeries in the future to separate her other fingers but as they are so small the doctor wasn’t sure they would have ligaments and if surgery would be a success and whether Claire would even be able to use the fingers so we decided against any further surgeries. She is perfect how she is.’
Building confidence starts from a young age. For example, Claire was having a baby photo taken and Danielle soon realised that the photographer was trying to position her so it would hide her special hand, so she said: ‘No, that’s her, we don’t want her hand hidden’. Danielle is sure that attitude has rubbed off on Claire and given her the confidence she has today and being proud of her difference.
‘Claire started dancing when she was 4 years old and the only thing that’s stopped her in the last 9 months has been the COVID-19 pandemic. We thought dancing would be a good confidence booster because of her hand difference and she hasn’t looked back,’ added Danielle.
With endless energy, Claire also started cheerleading and tumbling when she was 9 years old. ‘My goal is to get a bid to take part in an international cheerleading competition in Florida. To get that bid, your team has to be the best of the best at certain competitions during the year, so we are practising hard to get a bid in 2021 for the worldwide competition in 2022,’ explained Claire. ‘Cheer and tumbling has 6 levels, so I started at level 1 but have now moved up to level 4. I’ve also travelled to Hawaii to compete,’ she happily added.
As a dancing fan, Claire had been following a well-known dance choreographer Blake John Wood on social media for quite some time, not realising there was anything different about him. But at a dance convention last year she noticed his hand difference and was really excited to meet him after the show. From the photo, I think the feeling was mutual.
Sharing some of her pictures on Instagram led to some interest from photographers and Claire is now part of a modelling agency. One of her proudest moments was appearing on the front cover of Katwalk Fashion Magazine. Claire has her own Instagram page and a lot of girls, and mums who are expecting or recently had a baby with a hand difference, contact her to say how inspired they are by her achievements.
‘It’s great to know that this gives other people hope, to see that although their child has a hand difference, they will be able to master everyday activities and do what they love,’ said Danielle.
Claire has been lucky growing up at her school with no issues. Being a naturally confident and open child, when other children are curious and ask questions about her hand, she just answers, ‘I was born like that’.
Her main challenge has been tying her hair up. This frustrated her for a long time, with lots of tears, but she was very determined to keep trying and get it right. Last year she cracked it and can now tie her hair in a variety of styles and in her own unique way.
Claire has also thought about the fact that she doesn’t have a finger on her left hand to put a wedding ring on, whenever a very lucky person asks her, so she has decided that she will use the finger on her right hand. Cutting up food was another challenge, but one that’s been overcome with determination and imagination by holding a fork between her thumb and ‘mitten’.
‘When Claire’s younger sister eventually realised that Claire’s hand looked different, she would get upset. Not because she felt sorry for her, but because she wanted to know why she wasn’t born with a special hand,’ Danielle remembered. No doubt there are other Aussie Hands families who have heard similar comments from siblings who also want to be part of the special hand club.
Danielle and Claire are really appreciative of Aussie Hands and what it provides. ‘We follow Dave Serpell, one of the Aussie Hands Ambassadors, and he also supports Claire in her achievements. Aussie Hands sends birthday cards each year and it makes us feel like we’re part of a big family,’ added Danielle.