Nearly 200 sick, seriously ill and disadvantaged children from across the UK have left their families behind and conquered their fears on a once-in-a-lifetime charity-funded sunshine holiday in America.
The group spent 10 days in Florida on the annual Dreamflight trip, having been nominated by doctors, nurses and care workers around the country. The 192 youngsters – some of whom require round-the-clock attention – visited the likes of SeaWorld, Universal Studios and Disney World during an all-adventure tour of the Sunshine State.
The party! Taking children with a serious illness/disability without their parents on the holiday of a lifetime to Orlando! — Dick and Dom (@dickndom) For many, the trip represented the first time away from home, with volunteer healthcare professionals acting as chaperones.
As a final treat, children were given the opportunity to swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove in Orlando.
Several of the children were carefully lifted from their wheelchairs to get into the water, where instructors and carers helped them get up close with the mammals, while others overcame acute phobias to take part.
The experience was particularly profound for Libbie Smith, from Sheffield, who was offered a last-minute space on Dreamflight after another child pulled out.
The 12-year-old, who was born with holes in her heart, said: “My grandad asked me in September what I wanted to do in the future and I just said: ‘Go to Florida to swim with dolphins’.
“He sadly passed away on October 1, and on October 9 I found out I was going on Dreamflight.
“He used to love dolphins and I feel as though he’s watching over me when I was swimming with them today. He’d probably be saying: ‘That’s my little darling’.
“I’m going to show everybody all the pictures when I get home. I think my mum is going to start crying when I tell her but will tell me it’s a story to remember, and I will remember this forever.”
Adam Proctor, 13, from Garvagh in Londonderry said: “Dreamflight was fantastic – the holiday of a lifetime.
“I’ve made new friends and done really cool things.
“I was always feeling excited about coming, and I have learnt that it’s OK to be different because everybody out here is different.”