It’s a present that neither Mom nor Santa could have possibly squeezed under the tree for Thaddeus this Christmas.
But the Sunshine Foundation of Canada managed to make one 10-year-old Langley City boy’s dreams come true just ahead of the holidays.
Thaddeus Flannigan is a Grade 5 Uplands Elementary student, and he hasn’t stopped talking about an excursion he and 72 other kids made to Disneyland earlier this month.
Sunshine changes the lives of children living with severe physical disabilities or life-threatening illnesses by making their dreams come true.
In this case, Thaddeus got to be part of the 64th Sunshine DreamLift out of Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 11. Destination: The happiest place on earth.
Within a 20-hour window, the DreamLift gives kids a true taste of independence. It takes them on a child-led adventure – away from their parents and medical appointments – and transports them to a magical setting far from home.
For Thaddeus it was his first time travelling without his family, and his first time to Disneyland.
“This was definitely a once in a lifetime experience for him,” said Thaddeus’ mother, Candice Welch.
“He’s just now starting to calm down about it,” she said, noting it took a few days to just rest up and recover from the whirlwind trip.
The adventure started with the family staying in a hotel in Richmond ahead of the trip. There wasn’t much sleep the night before, Mom acknowledged – blaming a high level of excitement and the need for participants to be at the airport for a 4 a.m. start.
When the kids arrived in California, each child was matched up with at least one emergency responder buddy. For Thaddeus, he was partnered with Orange County Sheriff Todd Russ for the day, and according to Mom, the pair had a non-stop blast.
The Pirates of the Carribean ride was – without question – the highlight of the trip for Thaddeus. But the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge ride was a close second, Thaddeus returning home with a fluffy porg companion.
Admittedly, the scarier rides – like Space Mountain – proved a little too much for this youngster.
“He freaked out and said ‘okay, we’re not doing that again’,” Mom recounted, noting much of Thaddeus’ time in Disneyland was consumed by rides.
The young boy was born premature at 31 weeks and weighed only four pounds. Joint contractures at birth prevented him from straightening his arms and legs.
Thaddeus has what his mother describes as central core myopathy – a disease weakening his muscles.
So Thaddeus uses a wheelchair, but it wasn’t a hindrance for the young basketball player. In fact, it probably worked to his advantage getting the young athlete around the park with greater speed.
Having had what he describes as a “great” time, Thaddeus hopes to one day return to Disneyland – this time with his four younger siblings. And, he’s told Mom, he hopes to lure his younger brothers into trying some of those scarier rides – he’ll watch from the sidelines.
As as single mother, Welch isn’t too sure she’ll be able to take all the kids to Disneyland any time soon, but Thaddeus has it all planned out what rides they should take in and what features they should visit – if a return is ever possible.
Thaddeus was nominated for the DreamLift by the neuro-muscular clinic at BC Children’s Hospital, and learned in September that he might be going.
Having never been to Disneyland before, the outing didn’t seem real to Thaddeus until the weekend before – in part, because he didn’t know what to expect.
Now, Mom jokes, all he can talk about is Disneyland, Pirates of the Carribean, and Star Wars.
“I think he took advantage of the fact that it was all about him… going without all of us. It is really kind of nice for the kids. It’s all about them… There’s not a lot of times where he gets a lot of one-on-one time, you know?”
Thaddeus wasn’t the only Langley child to participate. He was joined on the trip by Langley’s Aliska Khaskan, as well as other kids and youth from Metro Vancouver, Victoria, and surrounding areas.
Since its inception in 1987, Sunshine has fulfilled more than 8,500 dreams for children and youth across Canada and coordinated 64 Sunshine DreamLifts.
Is there more to this story?