Thursday, October 30, 2014

Our AMAZING Make-A-Wish Trip!!!

We just returned from the most wonderful, magical, amazing experience our family has ever had.  The Make-A-Wish organization granted Parker his wish to go to Florida to experience Disney World and stay at the most AWESOME kids resort ever called Give Kids the World!

To kick off our trip, Make-A-Wish and the Chi Omega – Kappa Chapter Sorority organized a send-off party for Parker.  Several family members and some of Parker’s teachers and school staff came to celebrate with us.  It was held in our church’s gym and they brought LOTS of balloons, fun activities and delicious treats for us all to enjoy.  Parker had a blast “running” around the gym in his walker and getting so much attention from everyone.  It was so fun to watch and we’ve never seen Parker move that fast before! 
Parker and his Wish Granters, Chris & Kevin
Parker with all the Sorority girls

Parker with Dad, Grandpa Tom and Great Grandpa Gene
Right before the trip, we were scared we weren’t going to get to go.  Parker got a respiratory illness and ear infection a couple of days prior to us leaving and then the morning we were supposed to go to Omaha, Alexa woke up with croup!  Parker was started on new antibiotics and ear drops and Alexa was given oral steroids and even though the kids weren’t 100%, the Doctor gave us the OK to go as planned.  Thanks for all who prayed for the kids to get better quickly!

On Tuesday the 21st, Make-A-Wish arranged for us to stay the night at The Residence Inn in Downtown Omaha.  We were surprised with a banner on the door, the room was decorated with balloons and streamers and there were yummy snacks left for us.  We got the kids in bed later than we had hoped for and they only got about 5 hours of sleep because we had to get up at 3AM the next morning. 

We got to take a fancy limo ride to the airport which the kids, of course, thought was SUPER exciting.   We got special treatment on the plane as well since the pilot let the kids sit in the cockpit and Alexa got to make an announcement welcoming everyone and asking them to take their seats.   The flight crew then made an announcement letting everyone on board know that we were there for Parker’s wish trip and they even gave us little wrapped gifts full of yummy treats. 
The Limo!!!
Alexa pretending to be the pilot!
As you can imagine, I was a bit nervous considering this was the kids’ first plane ride and both of them were still sick.  My nerves calmed down a lot when Parker’s Pulmonologist (who happens to be one of our favorite Doctors) sat right behind Parker in the plane.  Knowing we were in good hands if anything did go wrong, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief!  This was definitely a God thing! 

When we landed in Detroit for our layover, Alexa and I made a quick run for the potty and Paul and Parker were met by a Marine who was on the flight with us.  He gave Parker a USMC hat and $100.00!!  He wouldn’t take no for an answer and all he asked for in return was to take a picture with Parker.  This act of kindness from a complete stranger made Paul and I both tear up!

When we landed in Florida, we were met at the airport by a Give Kids the World Volunteer who escorted us through the airport and helped us get our rental car.  We were given directions to Give Kids the World and were on our way!!   We were so tired at this point but full of anticipation and excitement too.

When we arrived at Give Kids the World we felt like we were stepping in to a fairy tale land.  It is such a cute place!!!  The kids were given stuffed animals as a welcome gift and we were given a lot of helpful information to help us navigate our stay at the resort.   We were escorted to our villa for the week and it was amazing!! 

This was not our villa, but one of the cute villa's families get to stay in.  They were all adorable and very nice!
Paul went to an orientation at the resort and was given free and discount passes for our family to attend many of the theme parks and attractions in the area.  We were also given special passes which allowed us to skip the long lines and other extra perks like a photo pass card (so we could get our pictures taken by the photographers in the park).  Wow!!  We also were allowed to eat delicious meals at GKTW free of charge and we could have free ice cream all day long (even for breakfast)!  As you can imagine, Alexa was pretty darn excited about eating pancakes for breakfast everyday followed by ice cream.   Oh my!

The Ice Cream Palace that served ice cream all day long!!

The Gingerbread House where we ate breakfast and dinner on several of the days
Shortly after our arrival, a nurse came by to do admission paperwork so Parker could have a night nurse for three of the nights we were there (so we could get some sleep).  This took a couple of hours so Paul and Alexa took a walk around the resort to get an idea of all there was to do and see.   After the nurse left, Grandma and Grandpa Dorn arrived with all of the medical supplies they brought along.  Grandma Celia drove all the way from Nebraska to Florida with a vehicle full of suitcases and medical equipment!  I really don’t know how we would’ve managed to get everything to Florida without their help!  Thank you Gma and Gpa!!

One of Grandpa Tom’s bucket list items was to go to Disney World with his grandkids so I’m glad they were able to join us!   Uncle John flew in the next day so we all had a nice opportunity to spend some family time together on this wonderful vacation. 
On Thursday morning, the kids got to meet Mickey Mouse and Belle at GKTW.  Parker LOVED Mickey!!!  He was so happy and gave Mickey a huge hug!  

After breakfast on Thursday, the whole family went to Epcot.  Alexa was still feeling a bit sick and the steroids were having some effects on her so this was a good place to start.  It wasn’t too busy and we got to experience a lot.  The favorite ride of the day by all (except me because I don’t handle motion rides) was Soarin’.

I LOVE Grandma CeCe's expression in this one!

 When we returned to GKTW Thursday night, they were having their Winter Wonderland celebration.  The kids got to meet Mayor Clayton (the bunny who is in charge at GKTW), ride the carousel and even meet Santa Claus and get a gift!  All of this was fine and dandy until Parker pulled Santa’s beard REALLY hard and would not let go!!!

On Friday, the kids met Woody Woodpecker at GKTW and then the whole family went to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.  It was really busy there with much to do.  We split up for awhile so Uncle John and Grandpa Tom could do some of the “big kid” rides while Parker and Alexa enjoyed the fun kid stuff.  Universal really accommodated us and we got to go through the fast lines or up through the exits so did hardly any waiting.   Alexa’s favorite ride of the day was the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster.  Parker really enjoyed the Curious George ball area and the rides at Seuss Landing.  Paul and John ended the day with some more “big kid” rides and Paul really liked the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.  You definitely need more than one day to experience everything at these two parks!

On Saturday, we got up late and then went to Cocoa Beach.  We needed a nice relaxing day and this was perfect.  Alexa has been talking about visiting the ocean for a long time and she was quite excited.   She wasn’t a huge fan of the sand at first but warmed up quickly.  She loved looking for seashells and drawing in the sand. 
Probably one of my all-time favorite pictures of Alexa

Parker really loved the beach as well.  We were very careful with the sand and water considering Parker has the trach but really it was OK and not too much of an issue.  Uncle John did get stung by a jelly fish but he was OK and no treatment was necessary.  Our family is always keeping things interesting you know!

On Sunday we visited Magic Kingdom.  The park was SO busy.  But with our special pass we were able to skip most of the long lines.  The very first thing Alexa wanted to do was meet Queen Elsa and Princess Anna from Frozen so that’s what we did.  It was so cute to see how nervous and excited she was about it.  We got to meet several other characters and princesses that day too. 

On Sunday evening, we stayed at Magic Kingdom and participated in Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.  At first I thought we made a big mistake because it was so crowded and we couldn’t find a good spot to watch the parade.  Both kids got restless waiting…especially Parker.  And since we were too far away for him to see the parade we wished we wouldn’t have spent so long waiting for it.  But, once the AWESOME fireworks show took place and the crowd dispersed it was much better.  We got to meet many more characters/princesses and go on a lot more rides.  We ended up at Magic Kingdom for 12 hours on Sunday and didn’t leave the park until Midnight.  The kids didn’t get to bed until 1:30am that night which is just crazy!!

On Monday, we went with the fam to Animal Kingdom.  It was fun and much less crowded.  Alexa’s favorite roller coaster of the entire trip was Expedition Everest.  The safari was a lot of fun as well.  Parker and I both LOVED the Festival of the Lion King Show which was spectacular!   Parker loved the music, lights and bright colored costumes.  He was smiling ear to ear and was dancing so much it was hard to hold him.

This ride was NOT a hit with either kid but I thought this picture was funny so had to include it!  The ride was pretty bumpy so that's why Paul is trying to hold Parker's head still.  Alexa kept her eyes shut the whole time!
On Monday night, Paul and Alexa went to the pool at Give Kids the World and had a blast.  After that, the four of us attended the Halloween party at Give Kids the World.  Sponge Bob, Patrick and Diego were there as well as Mayor Clayton.  They also had trick-or-treating and lots of yummy food and craft stations.  Alexa and Parker both enjoyed dancing with the characters.

On Tuesday, we spent the afternoon playing at Give Kids the World.  They have SO much to do there and we didn’t really have time in the previous week to do everything.  We rode the train, played in the coolest playground ever, did put-put, played in the arcade, drove boats, ate ice cream, found Parker’s star that the star fairy placed on the ceiling of the Castle of Miracles and so much more!  It’s an incredibly amazing place and I feel so privileged that our family got to spend a week there!!
Each child gets to put their name on a gold star and then the star fairy places it on the ceiling and it stays there forever!
Parker's star is on the left side of the bottom circle

Alexa kept saying how sad it was that we had to leave and wanted to know when we could go back.  I think we all felt the same way!  On Tuesday afternoon, we flew home.  Parker did sleep really hard on the second leg of the flight and did require oxygen but that was the first time he needed any the whole trip which we were so pleased about.  We landed in Omaha at 11pm and the airport greeters through Make-A-Wish were there to meet us.  They escorted us back to another limo that took us back to our car at the hotel.  We drove home and were in bed around 12:30am.  Whew!!

This trip was wonderful beyond my wildest expectations.  Everyone along the way was so kind, helpful and caring.  Our family felt special and loved and we were treated like royalty the whole way.  
Since Parker was born, our lives haven’t gone as we had planned.  The last four years have been difficult and quite trying at times.  We haven’t been able to do things other families get to experience and we’ve made many sacrifices along the way.  Even though we’ve done the best we can to ensure Alexa’s childhood is as “normal” as possible, it really hasn’t been.  And Parker has gone through so much more than any child should have to face.  That’s why organizations like Make-A-Wish are so wonderful and inspiring.  And that’s why places like Give Kids the World make such a lasting impression on families like ours and instill so much hope and inspiration.

This week gave us an opportunity to feel “normal”, special, valued and included.  We were surrounded in a welcoming environment full of other families who have similar stories to ours.  We felt like we belonged there and could be ourselves.  It gave us a chance to celebrate all the obstacles we have overcome and gave us the courage to move forward.  Paul and I may even be brave enough to try another big trip sometime in the future knowing that we survived this one and had so much fun.  I truly don’t think we could’ve or would’ve attempted this trip without the support, encouragement, accommodations and assistance from Make-A-Wish, Give Kids the World, Parker's Doctors (thank you to Parker's pediatrician for submitting the referral) and our families. We also had SO MANY people praying for us and we felt the power of those prayers.   So THANK YOU to all who helped make this trip possible for us and for giving us such happy memories for a lifetime!!