Youngsters enjoy trip of a lifetime on charity holiday to US

Sophie Dobson went swimming with dolphins. Pic: PA
Sophie Dobson went swimming with dolphins. Pic: PA
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Youngsters from South Yorkshire were among scores  of sick and seriously ill children from across the UK have left their families behind and conquered their fears on a once-in-a-lifetime sunshine holiday in America.

They spent 10 days in Florida on the annual Dreamflighttrip, having been nominated by doctors and nurses in hospitals around the country.

Sophie Dobson went swimming with dolphins. Pic: PA

Sophie Dobson went swimming with dolphins. Pic: PA

The 192 youngsters - some of whom require round-the-clock attention - visited the likes of SeaWorld, Universal Studios and Disney World during an all-adventure tour of the Sunshine State.

For many, the trip represented the first time away from home, with volunteer health care professionals acting as chaperones.

As a final treat, children were given the opportunity to swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove in Orlando.

Among those on the trip were 12-year-old Sophie Dobson from Sheffield, who was one of five children from the city to go.

Sophie Dobson went swimming with dolphins. Pic: PA

Sophie Dobson went swimming with dolphins. Pic: PA

She said: "The day I found out about Dreamflight, my grandparents were up and grandpa was holding mum's mobile which he would not normally go anywhere near. I remember them sitting me down and telling me to go to open this letter, so I knew something was up.

"My mum was filming me too, so it was a bit obvious what was happening. But I was so excited I couldn't read it properly. I had to get my twin brother, Harry, to finish reading it for me.

"I had been on a plane a few times, I went to Lapland twice, but I was a little bit nervous about the flying.

"But once I was on board, and we were in the air, it was actually alright. I have enjoyed being here and so much has happened that I have had to get my roommate to remind me every day.

Jacob Ishwerwood. Pic: PA

Jacob Ishwerwood. Pic: PA

"This has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for children like me. It's been brilliant.

"I really like travelling now and I think I might become an air hostess so I can travel more."

Also in attendance was Jacob Isherwood, 11, from Barnsley.

He said: "I was extremely excited about Dreamflight. For about five minutes straight I was speechless and then I ran upstairs and lay on my bed and thought about what I was going to pack in six months' time.

Jacob Isherwood. Pic: PA

Jacob Isherwood. Pic: PA

"My family were really excited for me too but I knew something was going on because I came downstairs and they all had cameras.

"I was nominated for Dreamflight because I go to hospital a lot for a syndrome that affects my kidneys. I get to miss days from school but at the same time I don't really get to do a lot of stuff.

"This trip has been fantastic, I would normally be at home on my Xbox and now I've come out to Florida and have been swimming with dolphins. I'm speechless."

The charity is celebrating its 30th year, having been supported by the late Diana, Princess of Wales, for its maiden flight, while a host of celebrities including golfer Ian Poulter, singer Sir Cliff Richard, and television personality Myleene Klass have given up their time to help out.

Charity founder Pat Pearce said: "I can't believe it's been 30 years - it was supposed to be a one-off trip, but people said, 'There are more children out there who need this break, you've got to do it again.'

"The 16th of November, 1987, Princess Diana came to wave us off. That was very, very special for the children, and for me if I'm honest.

"When I started it I thought it was just a holiday of a lifetime, I didn't realise how far reaching it (Dreamflight) is. The children get so much from each other, not from us adults. They see possibly somebody worse off than themselves and they think, 'Yes, I can do it'.

"For example, our former Dreamflight children now have 37 Paralympic medals. Another came back as a doctor. It's not just the holiday of a lifetime, it does change lives."

Paralympic champion Liz Johnson was among those volunteers supporting the children, having travelled to Florida as a Dreamflight child 19 years earlier.

The 30-year-old swimmer, who won gold at the Beijing games in 2008 and more recently appeared on Celebrity Masterchef, said: "There are so many reasons why I feel I need to give back to this charity.

"Some children you see the direct impact within the ten days of the trip but for others it's a more subtle impact that goes throughout their lifetimes.

"That was true for me - para swimming and parasport.

"Everything links back to that - the opportunities I'm getting and the person I've become are because of my experiences as a para athlete and it was Dreamflight that gave me the confidence to pursue that career."

The overall trip costs around £800,000 and covers everything from a chartered British Airways jet to three meals a day.

* For more information on the charity and Discovery Cove, visit Dreamflight.org and Seaworldparks.co.uk.