Disney dream: Disability battler Alan aims to have first holiday at 35
The farthest distance disabled Londonderry man Alan Saunders has travelled is down the road to Galway, and due to his complex care needs that was a military operation involving hospitals, doctors and paramedics.
Now the 35-year-old has his sights set on his dream trip of a lifetime - and an epic adventure - to Disneyland Paris, and his team of carers are adamant they will make his dream come true.
Alan has lived with Muscular Dystrophy since he was an infant. He has spent prolonged periods in hospital throughout his life. His condition has gradually deteriorated to the point where he is permanently in a wheelchair and needs 24-hour care.
The Cosquin man was destined to live in a care home for the rest of his life due to his serious health issues, until the team at NW Care stepped in and put in place a plan to allow him to come home.
"I have had Muscular Dystrophy since I was born and it's just gradually got worse as I got older. I have been in a wheelchair since I was 14 years old," he said.
"These last few years have been hard. I developed pneumonia in 2011 and was rushed to hospital, and I stayed there for two-and-a-half years. And everything changed. I had to have a tracheostomy to help me breathe and because of that I needed special care.
"All I wanted was to be able to come home but it was difficult to see how I could without a care package. It was my mammy's dream to get me home. Her name was Francis. She was so good to me. She had me spoiled. I was a real mammy's boy, and an only child.
"Mammy fought tooth and nail to get me home and I did in 2013. Mammy died four months later, which was hard.
"I am very well looked after by the NW Care team. They empower me to make my own decisions, go where I want to go.
"I have been to weddings, to birthday parties, out in the evening time. It's working well for me. I have a good life."
Alan said that ever since he was a child he had always dreamed of going to Disneyland Paris, but never imagined he would, due to his health issues.
His dream trip is being organised by 'Tuned In', a digital and creative arts project for people with learning disabilities, that Alan attends. The group is taking 20 people to Disney.
"The group leader Phil vowed that if he could make it happen, I'd be going too. We are raising money for it now through various events. The trip is on September 2 and I cannot wait to go.
"It will be like a military operation to get me there. I have to have a respiratory nurse with me and a paramedic and a whole team of carers. There is a lot of preparation going into making sure that I have everything that I need when I'm over there and that I'm safe and can relax and enjoy my time there.
"This will be my first holiday. It will mean the world to me. I am so excited. I can't wait to go. There are a whole load of people who love me gathering together to try and make this happen. I am so thankful to them for helping me make my dreams come true. It will be the holiday of a lifetime," Alan added.
Steve Gibbs, from Alan's NW Care team and a retired paramedic, said: "It is a big operation taking Alan anywhere. Even popping across the border is a big deal. We have to let the hospitals know, the ambulance service, get letters from his doctor, social services and his care managers. So this trip is quite the epic adventure.
"Every day Alan has to have his trachea tube suctioned several times a day, so we have to take a couple of machines with us for that.
"The main bulk of the equipment, we are hiring in France. We need a hoist, oxygen and machines and a special bed. It will be a really big job but he has done nothing but talk about it. He is so very excited. We are making his dreams come true."
Alan, a massive Manchester United fan, is already planning another trip - to Old Trafford.
To support Alan Saunders' fundraising campaign 'From Derry to Disney' and that of the wider group travelling to Paris, please contact Tuned In on 02871 367029 or its Facebook page at Tuned In Project - TIP