'The hugest honor:' EMT who survived COVID-19 inspires American Girl doll

When her niece entered her into the American Girl "Heroes With Heart" contest, April O'Quinn didn't expect to win.
April O'Quinn
/ Source: TODAY

To honor essential workers who risked their lives during the coronavirus pandemic, American Girl created the "Heroes With Heart" contest which invited submissions from people around the country, asking them to write in about the people in their lives who made a difference when the pandemic was at its peak.

One winner is April O'Quinn, an EMT in Richmond, Virginia, who recovered from coronavirus and went back to work.

O'Quinn was nominated by her 13-year-old niece, Lacey, who wrote in that "When (O'Quinn) was finally healed and released back to work, she didn't hesitate for one moment," according to the official American Girl Instagram, where the contest winners were announced.

O'Quinn told TODAY Parents that she and Lacey have always been close, but her niece didn't initially tell her she was submitting her for the contest.

"She called me and asked, she wanted to know if it was okay, even though she had already signed me up," O'Quinn said. "She said, 'I chose this picture, I hope this picture is okay, is that alright?' And I told her it was good, that I like the picture! She wanted to make sure I was okay with that picture. ... I didn't think I had a chance, but I knew this was something important to her.

O'Quinn and her niece Lacey.April O'Quinn

Eventually, that photo was used to design the doll based on O'Quinn. The one-of-a-kind doll features curly red hair, a bright red bandana bow, and a blue jumpsuit with patches.

O'Quinn told TODAY that she had the doll sent to Lacey, since she figured the teenager would enjoy it more than she would.

"When she found out we won, she called me on FaceTime and she was screaming and jumping up and down," O'Quinn said, laughing.

O'Quinn is among four other winners, and the other custom dolls include a grocery store worker, a teacher, a nursing assistant and a pilot.

O'Quinn had the doll sent to her niece. April O'Quinn

While only one of each of the winning dolls was made, O'Quinn said that she is hoping the American Girl brand will produce more of each of them.

"Having this doll created to look like me has been the hugest honor I could ever have," O'Quinn said. "They're not selling them, but we're trying to get American Girl to create these as a regular line of dolls."

The doll wears a red bow and blue jumpsuit like O'Quinn's, and has her curly hair. April O'Quinn

In the meantime, the replica doll has become a beloved toy for Lacey, and O'Quinn says she hopes to see others take inspiration from the line-up of custom dolls.

"I never expected this to go as far as it has gone," she said. "...I never expected it to reach the amount of people that it has reached, and (for me) to be the face and the inspiration for all the little girls that are coming up and looking for something to be inspired by."