By Rachael Mason
Lacee Lallerstedt, 4, smiles tentatively and repeatedly, lips parting to reveal her two front teeth before she breaks into a full grin.
She is excited about going to Walt Disney World for the first time. Her little brother William Colligan, 2, has been running around the family’s Loganville house all day saying, “We go in airplane to see Mickey and Minnie Mouse.” Lacee is playing it a little more cool. She answers most questions, such as “What are you going to do at Disney World?” with “Idunno” – one word delivered with a lot of attitude. Still, she does want to see Cinderella, who is one of her favorites. She walks to her bedroom to show off her toys, using the furniture and the walls for support as she carefully takes each step. Lacee’s jeans hide the clear plastic braces with pink and purple flowers that she wears on her legs. Lacee has spinal muscular atrophy, which means she has very low muscle mass and poor reflexes. She uses the muscles of her stomach to walk, instead of those in her back. “The strongest muscle she has is her stomach,” said Lance Colligan, Lacee’s stepdad. Her family uses a stroller for her when they leave the house. She has a wheelchair, but hasn’t quite mastered using it.
“She walks around the house because she won’t sit still,” said Brandee Colligan, Lacee’s mother. “She wants to be a normal 4-year-old.”
Lacee and her family were chosen to go to Disney World by Bert’s Big Adventure, a nonprofit organization founded by Bert Weiss of Q100.5’s morning show.
Taking the trip to Disney World is not something the family would have attempted on their own. “I didn’t have any idea how I would get her on the rides and on our budget we wouldn’t have been able to afford it anyway,” Brandee said. But on Bert’s Big Adventure, everything is taken care of, from transportation and accommodations to park admission and meals. “They have gone out of their way to make it a special event for the kids,” Lance said. The family left for Orlando on March 11 and will return to Loganville on Monday.
Enjoying every second
Before Bert Weiss began hosting “The Bert Show” on Q100.5 in Atlanta, the DJ worked at a radio station in Dallas. Every year, the station sponsored a Disney trip for chronically and terminally ill children and their families.
At first, Weiss thought that going on a trip with families who had to deal with such serious medical problems would be depressing. “My expectations and the reality of it were really different,” Weiss said.
He found that the families made sure they enjoyed every second. “They don’t have time to be bummed,” Weiss said. “These are families that bond together and that are really positive.” Weiss decided that if he ever got his own show, he’d organize the same kind of vacation. In 2002, he founded Bert’s Big Adventure with his wife Stacey.
The nonprofit organization puts together an annual trip to Walt Disney World for local children, ages 5 to 12, who have a terminal or chronic illness. Parents and siblings also go on the trip. Families are nominated for the trip and applications are evaluated by a medical committee. Children are chosen based on medical conditions and financial need.
Weiss went on the first Bert’s Big Adventure trip last year. “What was really cool was all the kids seeing Mickey and Minnie for the first time,” Weiss said. “Sitting back and watching the parents watching their kids with Mickey and Minnie is really pretty cool.”
[ From the Gwinnett Daily Post: 3/12/04 ]