Thursday, January 26, 2006

A dream come true

Thanks to the Starlight Children's Foundation, Abigail Hooper, who has battled with Rett Syndrome all her life, was given the chance to fly to Florida and swim with her favourite creatures.Abigail flew out to the USA earlier this month for the two-week holiday with parents Mark and Jenny and her younger brothers, Cyle and Callum.Because of the rare genetic disease, which varies in severity and affects one in 10,000 births, Abigail can now communicate using eye movements and gestures only.

Her dedicated mother said the whole holiday was fantastic, not only for Abigail but the whole family.'We could tell by Abigail's face and body language that she was getting so much from it. 'She just loved being away and in the water.'We knew she loved animals and the water and you hear so much about the therapeutic nature of dolphins and their interaction qualities with humans, so that's why we chose it, but it was so true.'The whole holiday was fantastic and I think we were all aware that we were doing and seeing things that we could never have expected to do as a family.'

The 11-year-old had started to show signs of the complex neurological disorder as she grew up but it came like a bolt from the blue to her parents when a geneticist working at Southampton Hospital discovered her medical records and told them that their then nine-year-old daughter had Rett Syndrome.Despite the hurdles, the brave youngster continues to go to school full-time and like most children is happy, sociable and loves animals.'Abigail's life choices will always be made by those around her, but she will still go through the same changes as anybody else growing up but without perhaps the same understanding.'

As well as the day spent by the family at Discovery Cove swimming with dolphins, the Hoopers also on a couple of occasions experienced the other family entertainment available in Florida, including Disney World and Sea World.'We ended up going to Sea World a couple of times because Abigail enjoyed watching the whales and dolphins so much. 'She just loved getting involved with everything around her.'But it was while swimming with dolphins at Discovery Cove, opposite Sea World, that the family were treated like stars for the day.'It was a brilliant day.

They had reserved us our own cabana, which turned out to be our very own prime viewing area. 'The cabana provided you with your own sunbeds, chairs and towels and was surrounded by greenery. It gets let out only to certain people so we felt very privileged and it was perfect if you wanted a bit of time to yourself.'Abigail was one of 10 children nationwide suffering from serious genetic disorders selected by the foundation for a lifetime wish. It coincided with the 10th birthday of the Jeans for Genes appeal.

Mrs Hooper was very grateful to the Rett Syndrome Association UK and Jeans for Genes for putting Abigail's name forward and in turn to the foundation for granting her wish.'Words can't express how much it meant to us all to be able to experience swimming with dolphins with Abigail.'Starlight arranged everything for us in Florida and its staff were always phoning to make sure we were OK.'We are just an ordinary family who will now have fabulous memories to keep forever, just like all the families who have benefited from Starlight.'

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"