Winter the dolphin has no idea of the publicity and controversy that swirls around her. But Katrina Simpkins, the first child with a prosthetic leg to befriend the dolphin, is keenly aware. In fact, Katrina's story is the reason "Dolphin Tale" is raking in millions of dollars from thousands of DVDs, toys and movie sales.

The Columbia City Hoosier was born without a hip and leg. It was her visit to see Winter when she was 8 years old that started it all. The "amazing true story" that "Dolphin Tale" claims to be isn't exactly true. The truth is, it's really Katrina Simpkins' story.

Ashley Judd, one of the stars in the movie, says she chose to do the movie because she read at the end of the script that it was a true story. But does she know the real story?

According to screenwriter Karen Janszen, Katrina's story wasn't "movie-ized" and needed to be fictionalized because it wasn't deep enough. Winter can never leave an aquarium and return to the wild because of her disability and yet (spoiler alert) that's how the movie ends.

While Katrina's parents did sign something that appears to have given the Clearwater Aquarium exclusive rights to her story, no one asked the young Hoosier to be an extra in the movie, to walk on the red carpet at a premiere or even acknowledge her part in it. Her parents are paying for the flight and tickets to attend the premiere in Clearwater, Fla.

Katrina's story

The true story is this: in 2007, 8-year-old Katrina Simpkins, born with PFFD (proximal femoral focal deficiency) walked with an ill-fitting prosthetic. She was picked on in school, and as a result, she emotionally withdrew and became depressed.

But that all changed when she met the dolphin, Winter, at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium while on vacation in Florida. She began emailing her and calling aquarium CEO David Yates to check on her weekly. She became a part of the Clearwater Aquarium family.

As a baby, Winter lost her tail when she was rescued from a trap. She was used as an object lesson by the aquarium to create awareness of how the carelessness of humans hurts wildlife. Dr. Dan Strzempka of Hangar Prosthetics heard the story from colleague Kevin Carroll, and decided to design a prosthetic tail for Winter. It had never been done before.

It was that prosthetic tail that had such an impact on Katrina. She and the dolphin began to bond. Katrina began to believe that she had a place in this world. She went from being an introverted little girl to a bubbly advocate who talked constantly about Winter. "I felt good that an animal was just like me," she said in a 2007 article in the Sarasota Tribune.

In 2008, the same doctor who designed Winter's prosthetic tail also designed a new leg for Katrina.

The bond that developed between Katrina and Winter received so much publicity that others with disabilities began to flock to the aquarium. Children, adults and soldiers wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq began to be inspired by the dolphin. So many people have come to see Winter that the aquarium is planning a $12 million expansion. DVDs, T-shirts and a Nintendo DS game based on Winter all contribute to the aquarium's financial windfall.

So what are the differences between Katrina's story and Hollywood's? Here are a few of them:

Katrina's Story
Hollywood's Story
Winter is rescued by a fisherman
Winter is rescued by a boy named Sawyer Nelson
Dr. Strzempka is white and middle aged
Morgan Freeman plays Dr. Strzemka who is neither
Dr. Strzempka has a prosthetic leg
The character played by Freeman has two healthy legs
Katrina is a girl who has a prosthetic leg
Sawyer is a boy with two healthy legs
Katrina's mom isn't single
Sawyer's mom is single
So, now when you take your kids to see "Dolphin Tale," you can tell them the real story — Katrina's Story.

Related on MNN:

Karla Akins originally wrote this story for MNN State Reports.