As recent as a decade ago, medical technology was not of the capabilities it is in today’s age. This meant many limb-different children were born with unexpected deficiencies. On 12th August 2003, the case was very similar for the young Jess Dowdeswell.
“We knew Jess’ legs hadn’t formed properly at the 20 week scan,” her parents, James and Johanna told, “However, we didn’t know a thing at the 12-week stage.”
Jess has bilateral proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD) which affects both of the hips, causing the legs to be shortened. Upon the news, both James and Johanna were understandably hurt and confused. It’s not uncommon for parents to question why this has happened to them.
Jess is the eldest of the Dowdeswell children and when it’s your first time delving into the world of parenting, nerves and worries are already prominent for most. Toppled with a rare condition can only adds concern to the mix.
“When we were told we were numb,” said Johanna. “We were very upset, mostly by the fear of the unknown. Jess is our firstborn so we had no previous experience of having children and going through a ‘normal’ pregnancy, we didn’t know any other way.
“We just had to go with it and make the best of the situation. It didn’t stop us loving Jess one bit. We’d agreed not to ask Jess’ gender prior to birth (to keep it as a surprise) but because of the situation we changed our minds on that. It made it easier to talk about Jess knowing her gender.
“At the time, we knew she hadn’t developed normally but the doctors presented an unclear picture of the extent of her disability,” James added. “So, for example, when we were told, they didn’t know if there’d be anything wrong with her hips, spine, etc.
“Jo ended up having an emergency c-section as Jess became wedged and it meant a safer delivery for her.”
Despite the obstacles set in way, Jess managed to have as normal an early life as any other child, but it wasn’t long until Jess began physiotherapy to help further develop her adaptive abilities. This also allowed Jess’ parents to see just how in-depth things were going to have to get in order for her to be correctly mobile.
“Early life for us was much like any other child; the usual feeding, crying, puking and delightful nappies. At around three-to-four months, Jess began having physiotherapy. This was essential in helping Jess with her physical development and supporting her to reach her developmental milestones as much as possible.
“Emotionally for us it was challenging. We had a lot of questions but for a long time we had very few answers.”
Settling into school life isn’t easy for everyone. When you have a significant limb-difference, the worry can become that much more unsettling – for both parent and child as a million things rush to mind at once. Fortunately for Jess, settling was not an issue. Jess being the confident character she is, quickly found her friends and in that, found her circle of encouragement.
Moving from primary school into secondary school is again another daunting task for anyone, especially as the friends you’ve known throughout your early life now move away. It’s like starting school all over again. However this time, crowds form and kids can judge. Luckily Jess yet again found her friends and is going through school just as confidently as ever.
“I've actually been really lucky in that apart from a few things at the end of primary school,” Jess explained. “I've got really good friends who support me and always cheer me up. When my new friends left at the start of year seven, looking back I think that knocked my confidence a bit, but my best friend now is so confident and has definitely brought me out of my shell again.”
Jess’ may have a significant limb-difference, however her obstacle is often overcome by her strong attitude and dedication. One of Jess’ passions is sport in the form of wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball. Both are sports she’s found herself excelling in.
As she progresses through her teenage years, Jess has already accomplished so much in winning various sporting competitions. Achieving so much has potentially opened up many doors for her down the road as she has her eyes set at capturing many accolades in the near future. Clearly, the young lady has not allowed her difference to set her back one bit.
“I like sport because it gives you a chance to overcome challenges and brings up your confidence a lot,” Jess entailed. It’s also a great way to stay fit, but at the same time is great fun and good for me socially.
“I feel like I have accomplished so much at this point in my life. I've dance in a piece with Candoco 2 and I have gone to two wheelchair basketball GB futures. I also have been training with the GB women’s team for sitting volleyball and played a couple of international games which was amazing and a privilege to do.”
In the summer of 2016, Jess and her family were set to travel to America for the first time. Their destination was Du Quoin, Illinois to attend the annual NubAbility Athletics camp in which limb-different athletes and kids come from all across America to learn and work with people just like them.
The Dowdeswell’s were the first international family to attend the summer camp and took away a monumental experience that has only helped Jess in her talents.
“NubAbility was a great experience. It was the first time we had travelled to the USA together, so it was a real adventure for us. We met some wonderful people and forged some great relationships with others who have been through similar experiences to us.”
So far in her life, Jess has overcome plenty of obstacles through her own accord and the support of her family. Even so, Jess has her sights firmly set on achieving much more, becoming the best she can be and in the process of obtaining further accolades, she wants to provide inspiration for the people around her.
“I would love to go to the Paralympic Games but I’d also like to dance and act professionally maybe join Candoco,” Jess revealed. “That would be amazing.
“I want to be a really big inspiration to people around me because no matter how hard your life is there’s always someone who’s had a worse experience than you. I have anxiety, but I think it’s important to be positive. No-one should let a thing stop them. It’s important to just keep smiling!”