“It was a life-changing experience”
Michelle Gibb, 39, tells us how her daughter, Kirsty, 14, enjoyed her first solo trip away from home and returned with a real sense of achievement
Kirsty was born with hydrocephalus (a build-up of fluid on the brain) and a severe form of spina bifida where her spinal column was outside her body. At just 24-hours old, she underwent surgery to close her back and a few weeks later she had further surgery to fit a shunt to drain the fluid on her brain, both of which were successful.
This meant that, despite a variety of complications, such as her lower legs and feet being turned in, causing her to trip often, Kirsty was able to lead a full and varied life, attending a mainstream school and taking up several hobbies, including horse riding and swimming, even winning a place on a disability swim team – the Border Barracudas.
Three years ago, aged 11, Kirsty had corrective surgery to rotate her ankles and pin her legs pinned so her feet faced forward. She still needs to wear splints but can now walk easier without tripping.
Many everyday tasks we take for granted are a challenge for her, but she is very stubborn and determined. If the doctors tell her she can’t achieve something she will go all out to prove them wrong, and achieve her goals, she’s a real fighter.
When, last May, we received a letter from Dreamflight inviting Kirsty to join them on their next trip to Florida, we were over the moon for her. As a family, we’ve been to Disneyland Paris but a trip to Walt Disney World in America is beyond our reach financially, so it was a real dream come true.
The nurses at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh had nominated Kirsty for the trip. They said they’ve always admired her fighting spirit and understand the challenges she’s faced and overcome and those she will endure in the future. When I called the hospital to tell them the good news they told me that they’d been nominating Kirsty for the last three years, and were so thrilled that she’d been accepted. We were surprised and proud, we couldn’t thank them enough!
The holiday was booked for October 2016 and I took Kirsty to Edinburgh airport for her to fly to London to meet the others. At just 13, she was in floods of tears and very nervous about being away from home with complete strangers. It was stressful for us both. I wanted her to have the time of her life but I worried about her care and knew I’d miss her dreadfully.
But I needn’t have worried as Dreamflight had everything taken care of. An escort accompanied her on the flight from Scotland and took care of Kirsty throughout the entire trip. They were taken to the Hilton T5 Hotel, Heathrow, where Harry Potter, Hagrid and Star Wars characters as well as police dogs and handlers were waiting. There were 192 children attending, with an escort for every two children. The party in the evening at the hotel was hosted by TV stars Dick and Dom. Kirsty was particularly thrilled to meet Paralympian swimmers, Stephanie Millward, Liz Johnson as well as Nyree and Sascha Kindred – Nyree having also been a Dreamflight child herself. At the hanger the next day, British Airways had arranged for Myleene Klass to give them a warm send-off – no detail had been missed.
In Orlando, the party was given a police escort to the hotel, they even closed the roads to provide a proper VIP experience. It was so exciting for the children and it’s something they’ll never forget!
Kirsty told us that the staff in Disneyland were fantastic and allowed extra time for the children to board the rides and take off splints or walking aids for the water rides, nothing was too much trouble to ensure the children were happy. The holiday included trips to all the theme parks including Sea World. Kirsty’s most memorable experience was swimming with the dolphins, being in the water with them was her dream come true!
It felt incredibly strange to be separated from Kirsty for ten days, I tried my best not to worry but I have to admit I lost a lot of sleep that week. Thankfully my worries proved to be unfounded as the Kirsty I met off the plane was somewhat different to the girl I waved off.
Naturally she was very emotional at being reunited with us, but she was so proud of herself at having managed so well, her confidence was boosted and ultimately and most importantly, having been around children with such a variety of special needs, she realised it’s ok to be different.
Kirsty proved she can make sensible choices and look after herself properly, which has been very reassuring as she grows up and wants to make plans for an independent future.
A few months ago, Kirsty took the initiative and organised a sponsored swim with her swim team, raising almost £500 for Dreamflight. She wanted to swim to Orlando which is 4,177 miles from here, every metre of the pool equalled one mile and it worked out that six team members would swim 28 lengths each. Kirsty wanted to raise the money so that another child could have the same amazing, life-changing experience as she had done. And like so many things in life, she achieved it. We couldn’t be more proud of our brave, generous daughter and are incredibly grateful to Dreamflight for helping her see that nothing is impossible to her.
TOTAL RAISED: £56,674
Dreamflight – THE FACTS
Dreamflight raises money to take children with serious illnesses on an amazing holiday to Orlando, Florida. The ten-day trip costs around £3,500, but is totally free to the child – including travel and food, accommodation, medical expenses, theme park entry, a dolphin swim and reunion parties. It’s a well-deserved opportunity for children with disabilities to have fun, build confidence and develop lifelong friendships.
For information visit dreamflight.org
BIG GIVE UPDATE
Money raised will be used to send 16 children from 12 regions of the UK – 192 in total – on a free ten day all-inclusive trip to Florida.