Every weekend my daughter Courtney and I try to get out of the house to give my wife Suzanne a little respite. Her “break” usually consists of dishes, laundry, housecleaning and about 42 other things I haven’t mentioned. Courtney and I travel to motorcycle and auto shows, her grandparents house, my bothers house, sometimes circuses or Barneys plays, whatever we can find to give mom that needed “break”.
About a year ago we attended the Outdoor Show in Novi where I ran into our long time friend Dan Durci and his family. Dan and I had met 5 or 6 years earlier at Howell High School where I taught special education and the company he worked for provided funding for a work based program, also for special needs children. Dan and I had teamed up for some of these “mom breaks” attending events such as Monster Truck shows, he and his special needs children seemed to enjoy the same weekend events Courtney and I do. Running into him at the outdoor show was a particular surprise and we quickly caught up on what each other had been doing since the last Monster Truck show. He then told us there was someone we had to meet at this show and he introduced us to the wonderful people at the Benefit4Kids booth at the show. They explained their program to us, we made out some forms, thanked them and went on our merry way.
A couple of months later we received a phone call from Linda Gehringer asking what type of outdoor experience Courtney would like to attend. Dan and his family had attended a “swim with the dolphins” experience and that sounded great. There are not a lot of things Courtney can do independently, but swimming is another story. She thrives in the water! Before we really understood what was happening the organization had set us up for the “dolphins” and schedule it around our Christmas break. About 3 weeks ago we set off on the most wonderful vacation and outdoor experience my family has ever enjoyed together.
We left 10 degree Michigan, flew into 75 degree Miami where we picked up the SUV rental and set off for the Florida Keys. Courtney sat in the back seat and would press the window button up and down and with her tongue out she would just feel the warm tropical wind. (Another dimension to Courtney is that she is Cortically blind, which means she does not “see” the whole picture. Her vision is only bits and pieces, kind of like looking out of a piece of Swiss cheese.) We drove to our motel and unpacked before taking her for her first Florida swim in the outdoor pool Courtney really, really loves to swim. She seems free in the water unlike on land where she needs her wheel hair to get around. Born at 2.6 lbs, almost three months premature, Courtney has cerebral palsy and her arms and legs just don’t work they way most kid’s bodies do. About three months after birth she had a grand mal seizure during an immunization shot and the doctors told us it “knocked out” a good portion of her brain. Chronologically she is fifteen, conically she is about two, but most days we don’t notice, she’s just our daughter who is challenged a bit more than most.
We enjoyed the sun and warmth over the next couple of days with Courtney swimming a minimum of twice a day sometimes as many as four “dips” in the same day. My wife and I joked that she was starting to look like a sun drenched prune from swimming so much but Courtney loved every minute. Tuesday arrived and this was Courtney’s big day with the dolphins! Our motel was about 300 yards from the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon (which is also known as the middle Key) and once there we were given a tutorial on what to expect from our experience.
Once in the water, Courtney has never tasted salt water and her look after a mouthful was priceless! As you can see from the photos the dolphins were amazing. Courtney’s favorite dolphin was Flippers daughter (true story) and both dolphin and kid squealed and screamed like crazy people! She splashed water at Courtney who, of course, splashed back. She took Courtney for a ride on her back then two dolphins came along side and towed Courtney and her special needs assistant (Julie) around and at one point it looked like they were headed for Key West before making a big circle and coming right back to the dock where they had started. The program lasted for about 45 minutes but we know for “Courty” it will last a lifetime.
While in the Keys we visited Key West (by car, not dolphin this time!) where we saw the most beautiful sunset we have ever seen. We took a charter-fishing cruise with about 50 other people and Courtney loved the boat ride, the people, and we even had dolphin’s swimming alongside the boat, which was a huge thrill! After about 39 more swims (a small exaggeration), lots of shell hunting and many trips out to enjoy the tropical sun, we packed up and headed back to sunny 10 degree Michigan.
The joy that Benefit4Kids has brought to Courtney, my wife and myself will never be forgotten. I feel like I owe them so much for bringing this much happiness to my family. Anyone that tries to tell me these people are not sent straight from heaven obviously didn’t see my daughters face as the two dolphins paraded Courtney around the research center that day.
Linda, Al, Jason, Joy, the board members, the director and everyone else involved in this program, God bless you.
Mary, Suzanne and Courtney Johnson.
Interested in this wish?
More Wish Kids:
Alexis Platt from MO - 2017
Brin Ilee Devries from MI – 2016
Caroline Mary Sade Thomas from MI – 2016
Cayla Pavelek from MI - 2018
Gage Wallis from MI - 2010
Hope Street from MI – Whale Watching 2015
Hunter Rogers from TN - 2009
Jesse Reyes Melendez from CA - 2014
Kaitlyn Hadden from OH-2009
Landon Agosta from MI – 2016
Mackenzie Sanders from MO – 2017
Matthew Ryan from MI - 2017
Oakley Savickas from MI – 2017
Rajah Shepard from OH - 2016
Robert Rue from MO - Alaskan Whale Watching-Fishing Adventure 2017