By Jessika Toothman
Fayette Neighbor Staff Writer
Fourteen children from around metro Atlanta who suffer from chronic or terminal illnesses were given a special treat last week-a VIP trip to Walt Disney World-and two of those kids live in Fayette.
Bert Weiss, host of the Bert Show on radio station Q100, has been running the yearly trips through his organization called Bert’s Big Adventure for five years now, and this year he included 5-year-old Darius McDaniels of Peachtree City and 6-year-old Hailey King of Fayetteville and their families on the trip.
“Wonderful,” “unbelievable,” “indescribable” and “amazing,” were words used by the children’s parents to describe the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Weiss said, “I think it is just four days of escape for them. When these families get into the same routine over and over and over again, it is so stressful that I think sometimes they forget to laugh with each other.”
Children chosen must be between 5 and 12 years old, must have a proven financial need and this must be their first trip to Disney World.
In the case of Darius, what caught Weiss’ eye was the strength of his family, which survived not only a son diagnosed with cancer, but being driven out of their New Orleans home by Hurricane Katrina, all within the space of a year.
Darius had a Wilms’ tumor and needed eight months of chemotherapy and had one of his kidneys removed in June. His mom said he had a wonderful time on the trip.
“Darius was able to relate to the other kids, and he was able to just enjoy himself away from the stress and the worries,” she said. “It was a much-needed release.”
The trip turned out to be a release for the parents as well. “When you are going through something like this you feel like you are all alone,” Ms. McDaniels said. “Then when you come together and meet people who have gone through similar things as a parent-it helps.”
Weiss said, “There was a special cohesiveness with the families this year.”
Hailey has maple syrup urine disease. Weiss said what stood out about her situation was the huge amount of effort that those around her need to exert on a daily basis to keep her on the strict diet necessary to keep her healthy.
Her rare disorder affects her liver’s ability to digest key amino acids found in most protein, so her diet is almost entirely limited to fruits and vegetables and supplemental protein that she can digest.
They also had a great time on the trip, all the way from start to finish. Hailey’s mother, Michelle Flanagan said, “It was even like a party on the airplane. It was crazy.”