“Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.” – Annette Funicello
For a family of a child living with medical complexities, the thought of a vacation to the happiest place on Earth” can seem overwhelming. But with Sunshine showing the way, young Ali and his parents are now dreaming big about taking their own family trip to Disney World in the future!
For 10-year-old Ali, from St. Thomas, Ontario, his recent Sunshine DreamLift adventure was not just an amazing experience, but one that paved the way for new possibilities with his whole family.
Ali’s mom, Linda, recalls her favourite DreamLift moment. It was when Ali arrived back at the airport at the end of the night. “The first thing he said when he got off the plane was: “Mommy, let’s go back! Let’s do it again!”
Linda recalls the months leading up to Sunshine DreamLift London 2018. “As a child with cerebral palsy, Ali has complex medical needs, but we knew he was in great hands with the awesome team Sunshine had put together, and that allowed us to put fear aside and let it be.”
Sunshine staff carefully handpicks the team for each child. Ali was matched with another Sunshine child, Logan, and the two little boys became fast friends. They were joined by a team of five: Dr. Michelle McNeill (Ali and Logan’s developmental pediatrician), Kyla (RN), two US Air Marshalls who met them in Florida, and Darrell Pitman, a volunteer whose Sunshine connection began through his membership in OARA (Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association – an organization which has raised a whopping $1million since 2010 to support Sunshine’s Dream Programs).
Darrell had driven six hours from North Bay to be part of Sunshine DreamLift London. He was full of praise for Sunshine’s level of preparation and the sense of teamwork. “Everyone on that plane was working together. We were all there for the same reason. It was all about the kids.”
Darrell packed a GoPro action camera for the day, and he captured some amazing moments that show Ali’s transformation from nervous kid in It’s A Small World to an alert, beaming, river rafter in The Jungle Cruise. With his ‘posse’ there to keep him safe and supported, little Ali’s fears melted away and his confidence and happiness grew at every turn.
Linda explains the value of this ‘Day of Yes” from a parent’s POV. “All too often we have to say to Ali: “Sorry, honey, but that’s not possible”. The rides at our local fair are not equipped for a child with special needs, but at Disney, Ali just kept hearing: “Yes, you can!” and “Yes, you are allowed to go on this ride.” It was a magical experience and it gave him a whole new sense of himself. Every day he says to me, “You know, Mommy, I did this and I want to do this again.”
“And now, as a family, Sunshine has empowered us to say, “WE can do Disney!”
By necessity, Linda is an expert organizer, planning things for Ali down to a tee, months in advance, but the idea of a trip to Disney World had initially fazed her. “I didn’t know if the rides would be possible for Ali. But Sunshine showed us the way. All their planning helped us think of our own future trip as a family. Sunshine gave us the confidence to realize that Disney is possible with a child with medical needs. There is always a way to overcome challenges and do the things you love. Words can’t express our gratitude. What Sunshine has done for Ali, and for our whole family, is huge.”