A young boy born with severe brain damage has been on the trip of a lifetime to America.
Robert Park spent 10 days in Orlando as part of the Dreamflight charity’s trip.
The holiday gives seriously ill and disadvantaged children from across the UK the chance to leave their families behind and conquer their fears on a once-in-a-lifetime charity-funded stay in America.
Robert was born prematurely at just 26 weeks, along with his twin sister Emma.
The siblings moved from the Royal Lancaster Infirmary to Liverpool Women’s Hospital, where Emma sadly died two weeks later.
Robert remained in the hospital for a further three weeks before returning to the RLI – he was in hospital a total of 100 days before Alex and Philip were allowed to take him home.
The premature birth resulted in Robert suffering a severe brain injury on both sides.
He also has a weakness in the left side of his body known as hemiplegia, as well as learning difficulties and moderate to severe hearing loss.
In addition, Robert has problems with social interaction and also some self care issues.
Twelve-year-old Robert was put forward for the trip by his RLI consultant Dr Clare Peckham, who has looked after him since birth.
His mum Alex said: “When he left St Mary’s Primary School in Kirkby Lonsdale he had been on a trip for three days and managed to cope without me, and so Dr Peckham said she wanted to nominate him for a Dreamflight holiday.
“She put his name forward at the end of 2016 and we found out on July 4 that he had been given a place.”
Dreamflight offers holidays to children with serious illnesses or disabilities, giving them a chance to go on holiday without their parents.
The youngsters went down to London on October 14 for a pre-flight party with children’s TV presenters Dick and Dom, being flying to Orlando from Heathrow the following day with 15 other children and a team of experts including medics.
Robert, who is in Year 8 at The Cottage, part of Settlebeck School in Sedbergh, had the support of an escort, Jamie Moon, throughout the holiday.
“They think of everything,” Alex said. “As a parent, to let a child without special needs go away it’s nervewracking enough, but if you have a child that depends on you all the time, to allow someone you don’t know to take them away is a really big deal.
“I cannot stress enough how amazing a charity they are. They put you at ease; they did home visits and we met the rest of the people going on the holiday.
“They had their own medical team with them, they have constant help.
“They kept in touch and sent photos so I knew he was having a fabulous time.”
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 youngsters visited the likes of SeaWorld, Universal Studios and Disney World during their all-adventure tour.
As a final treat, children were given the opportunity to swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove in Orlando.
Since his return home to Hutton Roof, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Alex has noticed a change in her son.
“He seems more confident in himself,” she said.
“It makes you feel a bit more confident as a parent for later on in life because you can worry they will depend on you forever.”
At the end of the holiday, Robert – who has three brothers, Richard, 26, Daniel, 10, and eight-year-old Aaron – said: “This has been great and I love it, but I love England better than America probably.
“The best thing was swimming with the dolphin.
“I’ve made new friends – friends for life – and now I just want to go and tell my family all about it.”
Dreamflight is celebrating its 31st year, and founder Pat Pearce said the charity’s longevity was testament to the support of its legion of supporters and benefactors – with only four employees receiving a salary, and the majority of the work being carried out by volunteers.
The 73-year-old said: “I think it’s the smiles on the children’s faces that makes it worth it for everyone, every year.
“Even the bigger boys in the group have come up to me, given me a hug, and said how grateful they are for Dreamflight.
“They have achieved things, done things they wouldn’t have done before, and they are so happy. That’s special, for me.”