“Bionic Girl” Tilly Lockey, the Real Life Alita
Tilly Lockey, the girl who is making prosthetics cool and her father Adam Lockey, recently spoke with Andrea Macdonald, founder ideaXme. They discussed Tilly’s incredible journey to becoming a worldwide spokesperson for prosthetics and meningitis awareness.
Tilly Lockey is not your average 13 year old girl. She’s a part time makeup artist, a model, an ambassador for the charity Meningitis Now, and a citizen scientist working with Open Bionics. She’s affectionately referred to as the “Bionic Girl.”
The Beginning of the “Bionic Girl”
Tilly was born a happy, healthy baby, but at just over two months old, she fell ill with what doctors originally believed to be an ear infection.
“My wife Sarah, Tilly’s mum, was still a bit unsure,” recants Adam Lockey, Tilly’s father.
After the appearance of a telling rash, Tilly was eventually diagnosed with meningitis meningococcal septicaemia strain B, for which there was no vaccine at the time.
Despite being told that Tilly was on the sicker end of the scale, with the possibility of it evolving into a life or death situation, baby Tilly was resilient and survived, but lost both of her hands.
“When people say ‘Well how did you feel when she had to lose her hands?’ Well, that was nothing compared to what could have been,” Adam states.
Tilly received her first pair of prosthetic hands at the age of two.
“My first pair of hands were two fingers and one thumb, like claws,” recalls Tilly. “Basically, the way it would work is I would have a big harness over my head, and the way I would move my upper body would pull on the strings to make the claws close.”
Technology has certainly come a long way since then, especially as Tilly works closely with the Open Bionics team to constantly improve prosthetic functionality.
“Open Bionics will send me the new updates and different things that they’ve added to the hand. Then they’ll send it off to me and then I will test them out and give them brutally honest feedback to make them the best they could possibly be.”
The Real Life Alita
Tilly’s work is not going unnoticed. Her work with Open Bionics was recently celebrated by none other than Hollywood legends James Cameron and Jon Landau.
“So these hands here are inspired by the movie Alita: Battle Angel. These were presented to me at the world premiere of the movie in London which I had no idea about. I knew I was going to London to get a new pair of hands, but I thought they were just going to be white like my other pair; I didn’t have any idea about the premiere or that they were even inspired by Alita.”
“I was shaking with excitement. I was so happy,” smiles Tilly.
Tilly has been incredibly busy traveling the world, speaking on panels, speaking to Congress and walking at a White House fashion show as a part of her mission to make prosthetics and disabilities cool and fashionable.
“That was incredible. I never thought I’d ever get the opportunity to go there, and so I’ve been doing little things like that. Well, not ‘little things,’ big things like that, bearing in mind I’m only 13.”
Tilly is indeed doing big things, regardless of age. Just last year she met with the Dalai Lama to speak on what companies could be doing to help aid people with disabilities.
“I’m so lucky and so blessed that I got to do that, and I actually did ask him a question. We asked him ‘what could big tech companies be doing to help develop this?’ And he said, ‘Go to the Third World countries.’ So that’s definitely something we’re working on and it’s definitely set me on a little quest.”
An Inspiration to Us All
Tilly’s also taken to social media in an effort to both connect with disabled people as well as with those interested in helping.
“I think social media plays a big part in how people can reach out to me. I’m open to everyone: people with questions, people who are interested in science and technology, people that want to be inspired, or people that just want to follow my journey. Everyone’s welcome and I try and get back to as many people as possible.”
Tilly is currently running a funding campaign to cover the cost of new hands as she continues to grow, as well as find investors to donate toward the cost of bionic limbs for others in need. The current price for a pair of hands is £10,000.
“I think what’s really inspiring with Tilly is the fact that she could just sit and let others do all the work. But she wants to get hands-on with this and just get stuck in. And you know there’s no holding her back. ‘Where can we go next? What can we do next?’ She’s up for everything,” Tilly’s father beams. “It’s so inspiring, not just to the family, but to everyone involved.”
Credits: Andrea Macdonald interview video, text, and audio.
If you liked this interview, be sure to check out our interview with Rio Paralympian Gold Medalist Liam Malone!
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