11 June 2024

Make-A-Wish teenager meets and hugs favourite Disney characters

11 June 2024

A teenager with a rare brain disorder has had hugs with Winnie the Pooh and danced with Cinderella after being selected to take part in an immersive Disney experience.

Barney Gardner, 14, has a condition called lissencephaly which is characterized by smooth brain surfaces and has been able to spend Sunday to Tuesday meeting some of his favourite Disney characters thanks to a partnership between Disney UK and Make-A-Wish UK.

Disney UK and Make-A-Wish UK have joined forces to deliver A Disney Wish, a unique Disney experience that runs from June 5 to 15 for over 200 wish children from across the UK living with serious illness.

Families have been welcomed to the event which takes place at Hoar Cross Hall, a hotel in Staffordshire, in three day cycles.

Barney’s mother Beverley Gardner, who is 45 and does support work for children with additional needs as well as supply work as a teaching assistant at Barney’s school, told the PA news agency she had a normal pregnancy and everything was “absolutely fine” until Barney turned six months old.

“He started experiencing some seizures and he was about six months old when he got the diagnosis,” Mrs Gardner, who lives with her family in Ashton under Hill, in Worcestershire, explained.

“We were told at that point that he would probably only live for two years as it is a life-limiting condition.

“He’s 14 now so we feel completely blessed that we’ve still got him and we live everyday to the max, we always look for opportunities and we’re always making memories.”

Taking part in the experience came about because watching Disney is Barney’s “favourite pastime” and so his family wanted to find a Disney linked event for him, which did not require him to travel abroad.

Mrs Gardner said a support worker who helps the family found out about A Disney Wish from the Make-A-Wish UK website and submitted an application around April, with the family quickly finding out they were selected to be a part of the experience.

She said the stay in the hotel has been “unbelievable” and a programme of activities has been arranged so her son can meet his favourite characters, including Belle from Beauty and the Beast, who he met at a storytime event on Monday.

“She’s probably one of his favourites and then at the end, we managed to lift him out of his wheelchair and he went on a beanbag in the front row,” she said.

“The storytelling and the way they brought it all to life was absolutely fantastic and then the princesses all came in in the end and Cinderella actually chose Barney to dance with, so she was dancing with him in his wheelchair.

“He couldn’t take his eyes off her and then he got to have one-to-one meet and greets with all the other princesses.”

Other highlights for the youngster include having “cuddles” with Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore and spending time with Mickey Mouse.

Eeyore also hugged Barney’s dad Andy, which Mrs Gardner said felt like a “really good pat on the back, as if to say you’re doing a good job”.

She said having opportunities like this are “so precious” at helping to create memories.

“Barney gets ill quite often; he has lots of respiratory issues and we just never know when these awful times are going to come, so to give us something like this means we have memories to take away with us forever,” she added.

Mr Gardner, who is his son’s main carer and works part-time at B&Q as a sales advisor, told PA: “[The experience] has been fantastic and Barney has been able to take his time to appreciate everything.”

Sara Hanson, director of corporate social responsibility, Disney EMEA, added it is a “privilege” to bring the “magic” of Disney to families through the experience.

“What I notice walking around is how many times families tell you it’s been the first time ever their child has gone on a ride or the first time ever that they have sat through a whole show,” she said.

“It’s that that makes it ever so special is that we can take that time and really make this experience tailored around the child which I think gives people a lot of opportunities to have those first time ever moments that they might not be able to get elsewhere.”

To find out more, visit www.make-a-wish.org.uk

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