The Dream Factory and Manitoba RCMP helped make a few dreams come true for seven-year-old Carman Elementary School first-grader Andrew Monaco, and earlier this week Andrew thanked his new friend, Constable Evan Willcock, for his part. (EMILY DISTEFANO/VALLEY LEADER)
For seven-year-old Andrew Monaco, everyday life is interspersed with doctor’s appointments, ambulance rides, hospital beds and needles.
The first-grader has been dealing with a life-threatening seizure disorder since he was a baby, but thanks to the Dream Factory, Andrew and his family were able – for a whole week – to trade their cares for a whirlwind trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida complete with an RCMP escort to Winnipeg, an all-inclusive stay at the Give Kids The World Village, a whole slew of super heroes and unlimited ice cream.
A charitable organization dedicated to fulfilling dreams for kids battling life-threatening illnesses, the Dream Factory has been operating in Manitoba since 1983. Their goals are to grant the requests of every eligible child; include the child’s immediate family; fulfill the dream outside of a hospital environment; and provide financial assistance to families who need it.
Children who qualify are found through referrals.
For Andrew, qualifying meant he was able take the trip of his dreams with his parents, Keith and Sandra Fidler, his brother and Robert (9) and sister Ilea (13) and family friend Susan Weppler. And as Sandra said, they were all able to make memories that will last a lifetime.
Andrew’s dream was meant to come true last November but the flight was delayed due to his health. At the time, he weighed 33 pounds.
Instead, the family flew out on February 25 from Winnipeg - but the dream started before they even left Carman when Constable Evan Willcock of the Carman Area RCMP arrived to drive Andrew and his brother Robert to Winnipeg in his police car (sans siren, although Andrew got to press a lot of other buttons instead).
“He was in his glory, just to go into that police car,” said Sandra, noting that Andrew always wanted to be a police officer and now he thinks he’s pretty much there.
“He was asking questions left and right,” she said. “Now he’s best friends with the policeman.”
Once they were in the city, Andrew got to visit the RCMP Headquarters and meet Assistant Commissioner Scott Kolody too. There he received an RCMP badge, medallion and pin.
Then it was on to a hotel in Winnipeg – which featured dinosaurs, another Andrew favourite – before the Saturday morning flight.
When the family landed in Florida, they were met by a man with a sign and a van. They stayed at the Give Kids The World Village – an organization that partners with children’s wish and dream foundations. The ‘Village’ is really a 79-acre resort with just about any activity you can imagine available for the kids who visit, including helicopter rides, a giant rabbit mayor, and a 24/7 ice cream bar. And the home they stayed in was labelled “Andrew’s Villa.”
With passes to Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios, Aquatica and more, the whole family was kept busy during their time in Orlando, and an army of volunteers at every step managed to make the whole experience run smoothly and with no stress for the family - a gift just as valuable as the trip itself.
“The Dream Factory just went out of their way to make sure that Andrew had everything he needed,” said Keith, who couldn’t say enough about everyone involved, from the Dream Factory representatives who helped them to the RCMP officers who went out of their way to make Andrew feel special and the people they met in Florida.
Sandra said the trip was wonderful for the whole family. They met kids from all over the world, as well as families from as close Brandon.
It was reassuring for the families and children to meet each other, because everyone at the village understood what it was like to deal with the life-threatening illness of a son, daughter, brother or sister as well.
“Everybody learned from other families, other kids in the same situation,” Sandra said. “We learned we’re not alone.”
“Nobody looked at you different because [Andrew] wears a helmet, nobody looked at him,” she added. “It was so comfortable and relaxing, that you’re not looking at being judged. There’s no words – it just feels like home.”
The family got back to Manitoba on March 4, exhausted but happy.
And on Monday of this week, Andrew presented Const. Willcock with a framed photo of the two of them, a keychain, a second keychain for Assistant Commissioner Kolody, and gifts for Willcock’s young daughters.
When I asked Andrew what his favourite part of the whole dream was, he pointed to the RCMP pin attached to his Disney t-shirt. Then he was off to explore the jail again, try on some hats and assist his new friend with more of his police work.
Sandra said there is no way to properly express the family’s gratitude for making Andrew’s dreams come true.
“It is so amazing and I just don’t even know where to start to say thank you…they make miracles and laughter and a child being a child without being taken to the doctor’s or the hospital,” she said. “You can’t describe how that is.”
The warmth of their experience remains with them. The boys are still talking about that heated pool in Florida – and Andrew is still telling everyone he knows that he’s a police officer with the power to arrest them and take them to jail.
Every child that stays at the village becomes part of the alumni and can go back to visit. Andrew’s mom said that connection can only bring them more joy in the future, no matter what that future holds.
“He’s got a star in the Star Tower,” she said. “He will always be a star child.
“You get to go back and say, ‘hey that’s my star’ and he can turn around and tell his kids ‘that’s my star,’” she said. “Or if something does happen...we’ll always have that memory. We can go back there and say ‘that was my son’s star’ and remember all the good memories. It will always be good memories there.”
“That’s why I say dreams do come true,” she added. “You think you’re having a really rough time, you have some so bad days, but this takes over all the bad days that you ever had to deal with – just to see the sparkle and the laughter.
“There’s no words to say thank you for what everyone did for that child.
“He got to be a kid.”