Heelan, Jamee Riggio 1965-

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HEELAN, Jamee Riggio 1965-


Born May 3, 1965, in Deerfield, IL; daughter of John Albert II (a salesman) and Julia Joyce (a registered nurse; maiden name, Pope) Riggio; married Robert Charles Heelan (a broker), November 14, 1987; children: Dominic Vincent Lemieux, Grant Patrick Roy, Gianna Ashley Maree, Anthony Joseph LeClair. Education: University of Kansas, B.S., 1986. Religion: Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Jogging, golfing, boating, fishing, biking, pencil drawing.


Home—Mundelein, IL. Office—Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, 345 East Superior St., Chicago, IL 60611. E-mail—[email protected].


Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, registered occupational therapist, 1987—, coordinator of the Children's Amputee Program, 1992—. Center on International Rehabilitation/Physicians Against Landmines, Chicago, IL, occupational therapist consultant, 1999-2002.


Association for Children's Prosthetic and Orthotics Clinics (board of directors, 1996-1999; vice president, 2000-2002; president, 2003-2005).


Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities, International Board on Books for Young People, 2002, for Can You Hear A Rainbow?: The Story of a Deaf Boy Named Chris.


The Making of My Special Hand: Madison's Story, Peachtree Publishing (Atlanta, GA), 1998.

Rolling Along: The Story of Taylor and His Wheelchair, Peachtree Publishing (Atlanta, GA), 2000.

Can You Hear a Rainbow?: The Story of a Deaf Boy Named Chris, Peachtree Publishing (Atlanta, GA), 2002.


A Canine Companion, about the friendship between a dog and child, for Peachtree Publishing (Atlanta, GA).


Jamee Riggio Heelan is an occupational therapist who specializes in working with children with disabilities and physical deformities. Heelan has held a variety of jobs and high-level positions in professional organizations in the field of occupational therapy, such as being the coordinator of the Children's Amputee Program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and the president of the Association for Children's Prosthetic and Orthotics Clinics. This background gives her a unique, behind-the-scenes perspective of the daily challenges faced by children living with physical handicaps. She brings her knowledge and her compassion for these children to the public through her books.

"My greatest goal," she told CA, "is to remove the fears behind a disability. By explaining through words and pictures why someone is the way they are then maybe each individual that reads my books will see a child with a disability as a child first and see their disability second."

In the three books Heelan has written, which are part of a series, she uses a first-person narrative to tell the story of a child with a disability. As a young girl, Heelan told SATA, she knew several children with serious disabilities. One lost both arms following an accident, another was deaf, one was blind, and one had cancer.

These experiences left her with many questions. Heelan says her parents encouraged her not to treat people differently or unfairly. This background influenced Heelan to become an occupational therapist, working with children with all kinds of physical disabilities.

"I began writing about children with disabilities in hopes to better educate the community about real children that surround us," Heelan told SATA. "Disabilities can bring upon many fears to the onlooker especially if it brings with it a lot of unanswered questions."

The Making of My Special Hand: Madison's Story was Heelan's first book. Born with only one hand, Madison goes through the process of acquiring a prosthetic hand. School Library Journal reviewer Linda Beck called the book "unique," noting that it would be "an excellent addition to collections on children with special needs." Readers join Madison and her family on their visit to the hospital and learn about "helper hands," which is the term Heelan uses for the prosthesis being made for Madison. Writing in Booklist, Ilene Cooper praised the book as "extremely informative," noting that "children will have no problem understanding" the medical procedures describing the fitting of Madison's new hand.

Heelan's second book in the series, Rolling Along: The Story of Taylor and His Wheelchair, describes the daily life and routines of Taylor, a young boy with cerebral palsy. "While he has been trained to use a walker, he prefers a wheelchair as it enables him to go faster and not tire as quickly," noted School Library Journal's Margaret C. Howell, explaining Taylor's desire for independence. Booklist critic Hazel Rochman described the use of Taylor's own voice as "direct and immediate," observing that what makes the book effective "is that there's a story, not just a situation."

In Can You Hear a Rainbow?: The Story of a Deaf Boy Named Chris Heelan narrates through ten-year-old Chris, who explains to readers how he uses sign language, hearing aids, and lipreading to communicate. Chris shows how his days aren't much different from hearing children's, and relates that some things—like a rainbow—are the same for both deaf and hearing children. While not finding the information in the book new, School Library Journal critic Nancy A. Gifford, nonetheless, found it "accurate and worth repeating."

"Being an author," Heelan told SATA, "has given me the special gift to teach those I do not have personal contact with but now have the opportunity to guide." She said, "Keep your dreams big, bright, and full of energy, and in time you can do anything your heart desires.… Anything is a possibility."



Heelan, Jamee Riggio, The Making of My Special Hand: Madison's Story, Peachtree Publishing (Atlanta, GA), 1998.


Booklist, April 1, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of The Making of My Special Hand, p. 1462; September 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Rolling Along: The Story of Taylor and His Wheelchair, p. 120.

Horn Book Guide, July-December, 2000, Gail B. Hedges, review of The Making of My Special Hand and Rolling Along, p. 124.

School Library Journal, September, 2000, Linda Beck, review of The Making of My Special Hand, p. 217; December, 2000, Margaret C. Howell, review of Rolling Along, p. 133; September, 2002, Nancy A. Gifford, review of Can You Hear a Rainbow?: The Story of a Deaf Boy Named Chris, p. 213.

Skipping Stones, September, 2001, review of The Making of My Special Hand, p. 33.*