GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.- A world-famous dolphin is an inspiration for a young amputee from Allegan.
Ella Gillies, 11, is your typical pre-teen. She loves “Hunger Games,” her iPod and having sleepovers with her girlfriends. But, she also knows what it’s like to be different, facing the everyday stares and questions.
Her mom, Brande, says it’s easy for her daughter to feel alone at times.
“People don’t understand the struggles or what you’re dealing with,” she said.
Ella was born without tibias. Her parents made the difficult decision to amputate her legs above the knee when she was just six months old.
Last month, Ella had a chance encounter with Hanger’s vice president of prosthetics, Kevin Carrol. He’s the man behind the prosthetic tail for Winter, the amputee dolphin who starred in the movie “Dolphin Tale” with Morgan Freeman.
He invited her to Florida to ‘Camp No Limits,’ a camp for children with limb differences and their families.
“Nobody was different, everybody’s the same and they learn how to do stuff and they build a support system together,” Brande said.
But, the most exciting part was yet to come; meeting Winter, the dolphin Ella felt an incredible bond with.
“It’s kind of the same, because she had to go through learning to swim and doing it differently,” Ella said.
For Ella, it was a breakthrough.
“I finally am somewhere where I fit in, it’s like everybody here understands me,” Ella said.
Confidence and acceptance from a dolphin who knows Ella’s struggles better than most humans.
Ella hopes it’s a lesson that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, “I may look different on the outside but I’m the same as everybody.” She said.