Sunday July 13, 2014

DreamLift comes true

Barnhartvale boy, accompanied by a local volunteer, bound for Disneyland
Keith Anderson

Paul Gotro says Kai is a handful, but in the long run, "it's not that big of a deal."

While unable to communicate verbally, Kai Gotro's smile is enough to convey his excitement over a long-awaited experience in store for him on Tuesday.

The nine-year-old Barnhartvale boy, who has a severe form of cerebral palsy, will be among 56 kids from across the Interior included in this year's Sunshine DreamLift.

They will be flown to California and escorted to Disneyland by the Orange County sheriff's department in a program organized by the Sunshine Foundation of Canada and sponsored by Wendy's restaurants in the southern Interior for the past 19 years.

Kai's grandparents - his adoptive parents - won't be going with him, and that's part of what the program is about. It's also important for Kai, his grandfather Paul explained.

"One thing they don't want is for caregivers and parents to be there. The whole idea is to give the kids a chance to do something that they wouldn't ordinarily be able to do," he said.

Born with spastic cerebral palsy - a nonprogressive motor condition that causes physical disability in development - combined with quadriplegia and dystonia, Kai can fully comprehend the world around him. In fact, he was engrossed in a Thomas the Tank TV show on Saturday. He is, however, only beginning to learn to express his ideas, working with speech pathologists and a computer.

One of those workers, Sue Rampone, will accompany him to Disneyland as a volunteer assistant.

"The DreamLift and things like it help to stimulate the kids, but they also educate the public," Paul said.

As a retired public school teacher, he used to walk by the special-needs classroom - back in the days when the children were segregated - and think how tragic it was.

With cerebral palsy, many people can't see beyond the physical limitations to understand the cognitive, fully conscious human being seated before them. Kids with cerebral palsy tend to be underestimated, but they need the same environmental stimulus that other children have in order to develop.

Kai has already raised funds for Variety. Walking along Barnhartvale Road, he and his mom retrieved golf balls from EaglePoint Golf and Country Club. They sold them back to golfers initially, until a golf course staff member suggested they make it a telethon fundraiser. They raised $2,300 this year and there is talk of establishing a charity golf tournament as well.

Kai was recommended for the DreamLift a couple years ago by support staff at Sunnyhill Children's Hospital. Paul can't say enough about the physicians there and at B.C. Children's Hospital. Kai was unable to take part that time due to illness, but his chance comes bright and early Tuesday.

For his grandfather, the experience of raising the boy is not the onerous challenge some might think.

"My mother used to have an expression - he's just another spud in the pot," Paul said. "He's a mitten-full, no doubt about that, but in the long run, it's not that big of a deal."

Wendy's staff in the region forfeit a day's wages to support a program unique to the souther Interior. Over the years the chain has raised $1.22 million for DreamLift.

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