Written By: Darren Devine 26/10/15
Charity dreamflight flew the children to Florida to visit places like Universal Studios and SeaWorld
A group of Welsh children were among scores of sick, seriously ill and disadvantaged youngsters who swapped homework for swimming with dolphins in a once-in-a-lifetime charity holiday.
Some 192 children from across the UK spent a week in Florida on the annual Dreamflight trip.
The youngsters, specially selected by medical professionals, visited the likes of SeaWorld, Universal Studios and Busch Gardens during an all-adventure tour of the Sunshine State.
For many, the trip represented the first time away from home, with volunteer doctors, nurses and medical professionals helping act as chaperones during the holiday.
Swim with dolphins
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.
Among the 13-strong group from Wales was Elis Coombes, 12, of Cardiff .
Elis, who has cerebral palsy, said: “I have learned new things since I’ve been out here, about myself and other people.
“And while my friends have been doing double lessons, I’ve been chilling with dolphins.
“I was in a bit of a bad state when I got the news that I was coming here, I was being called names a bit so I was so happy when mum said I was off to Orlando.
“I would like to come back as a Dreamflight volunteer one day. They have all been brilliant, and they should have a holiday too.”
Positive attitude to disability
A Dreamflight spokeswoman said Elis was chosen for the trip because of his positive attitude towards dealing with his disability.
She said: “He sees it (his disability) as a good thing. It’s part of who he is.
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“He’s really determined to be included and does everything that his mates do, including playing mainstream football until recently.
“That is very much what happens on Dreamflight – anything is possible.”
Elis Coombes swimming with a dolphin at Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida, USA on the final day of the Dreamflight charity trip. Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Charity’s celebrity backers
The charity, which celebrates its 30th year next year, has enjoyed support a host of celebrities including golfer Ian Poulter, Harry Potter actor Matthew Lewis, television presenter Konnie Huq, and singer Sir Cliff Richard.
It sets out to inspire its young participants into achieving goals despite disability or illness.
One former Dreamflight attendee, Aiden Healey, has recently turned professional as a golfer.
Drive to carry on strong as ever
Charity founder Pat Pearce said her drive to continue running the annual trip remains as strong as ever ahead of its milestone in 2016.
She said: “The inspiration to carry on is in the kids’ faces.
“It is seeing them swim with dolphins that makes me want to give even more children that chance.
“This idea started as giving a holiday of a lifetime to children, and every year we see the children develop and become more confident.
“It is a testament to the volunteers and our supporters and donors who keep this happening and making dreams come true.”
Paralympic champion Liz Johnson was among those volunteers supporting the children.
Giving children chances they never had
The 29-year-old swimmer, who won gold at the Beijing games in 2008, said: “I think the great thing about Dreamflight is giving children the chances they never had.
“It is experience for them, and they get the freedom to be children.
“We have the best volunteers in the world great medical brains, so it gives the parents some reassurance.
“For the children, this holiday means they aren’t singled out. Here, it is normal to be different.”
The whole trip costs around £800,000 and covers everything from a chartered jet to three meals a day.
Flight packed with medical equipment
Dr Cauvery Pal, the charity’s deputy medical director, said there is a long process involved in checking a child is suitable for Dreamflight, with their chartered British Airways flight packed with every piece of equipment needed to ensure participants can enjoy the holiday in a comfortable and secure environment.
Dr Pal, consultant paediatrician at Homerton University Hospital in east London, said: “We are always prepared and have detailed notes on the various medical needs.
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“Obviously a medical emergency at 30,000ft on a Boeing 747 is a different environment to a hospital theatre, but there is always an unusually high concentration of medical professionals on board, so the children are always in good hands.”
Source: Wales Online