'Holiday of a lifetime': Sick children overjoyed on Dreamflight trip to Florida
Nearly 200 sick, seriously ill and disadvantaged children from across the UK have left their families behind and conquered their fears on a once-in-a-lifetime charity-funded sunshine holiday in America.
The group spent 10 days in Florida on the annual Dreamflight trip, having been nominated by doctors, nurses and care workers around the country.
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 healthcare professionals acting as chaperones.
As a final treat, children were given the opportunity to swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove in Orlando.
Several of the children were carefully lifted from their wheelchairs to get into the water, where instructors and carers helped them get up close with the mammals, while others overcame acute phobias to take part.
The experience was particularly profound for Libbie Smith, from Sheffield, who was offered a last-minute space on Dreamflight after another child pulled out.
The 12-year-old, who was born with holes in her heart, said: "My grandad asked me in September what I wanted to do in the future and I just said: 'Go to Florida to swim with dolphins'.
"He sadly passed away on October 1, and on October 9 I found out I was going on Dreamflight.
"He used to love dolphins and I feel as though he's watching over me when I was swimming with them today. He'd probably be saying: 'That's my little darling'.
"I'm going to show everybody all the pictures when I get home. I think my mum is going to start crying when I tell her but will tell me it's a story to remember, and I will remember this forever."
Adam Proctor, 13, from Garvagh in Londonderry said: "Dreamflight was fantastic - the holiday of a lifetime.
"I've made new friends and done really cool things.
"I was always feeling excited about coming, and I have learnt that it's OK to be different because everybody out here is different."
The charity is celebrating its 31st 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 couple Stacey Solomon and Joe Swash have given up their time to help out.
Charity founder Pat Pearce said Dreamflight's longevity was testament to the support of its legion of supporters and benefactors - with only four employees receiving a salary, and the majority of the work being carried out by volunteers.
The 73-year-old said: "I think it's the smiles on the children's faces that makes it worth it for everyone, every year.
"Even the bigger boys in the group have come up to me, given me a hug, and said how grateful they are for Dreamflight. They have achieved things, done things they wouldn't have done before, and they are so happy. That's special, for me.
"We had a woman who was on the first Dreamflight in 1987 and she came up to us in the parks - she was visiting on holiday - and she just wanted to say hello.
"It's that sort of thing that makes it worthwhile."
The overall trip costs around £800,000 and covers everything from a chartered British Airways jet to 235 hotel rooms, 12 buses and three meals a day for 420 people.
So far, 5,830 children have been on a Dreamflight holiday.
:: For more information on the charity and Discovery Cove, visit Dreamflight.org and Seaworldparks.co.uk.