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With gusto, Tagen made his presence known by announcing to the room, “Only three more Fridays!”
Only 21 days from that second Friday in September, Tagen Vale would turn seven years old. But even that milestone had taken a backseat to the other event scheduled for October 2.
“I’m going to Mickey Mouse’s house!” he declared. “I’m going to see where Mickey lives!”
Ah, Mickey. Perhaps the only creature who has the power to eviscerate the excitement that comes with a child’s seventh birthday. This meeting with Mickey, however, would not be happenstance. Nor would this vacation be a typical one to Disney World.
For starters, Tagen Vale is special. He manages to live and love and learn in spite of his chronic and disabling medical condition. Although he has a rare, acute form of cerebral palsy, Tagen exudes happiness and pride in his modest surroundings.
Rodney and Melanie have to watch their money these days because Tagen’s medical bills often add up fast. In lieu of cable, they made the one-time purchase of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on DVD. “He will sit there and watch those shows over and over and over again,” Melanie says. “He knows every song and every word, and he sings them every time they’re on.”
Tagen’s dream has always been to actually meet the mouse. That dream was deferred years ago, though, since there was simply no possible way to bankroll a family trip to Orlando, Florida. But this past summer, something magical happened.
Melanie contacted the Dream Factory of San Antonio, a nonprofit that makes dreams come true for children ages three through 18 with critical or chronic illnesses.
At the time, Melanie didn’t realize that Tagen’s trip would be made extra special by American Airlines’ Something mAAgic Foundation, a nonprofit organization comprising volunteers who are current and former employees of AA, American Eagle, and American Airlines Federal Credit Union. These folks support the mission of Give Kids the World and create everlasting memories.
WishFlight, the Something mAAgic Foundation’s marquee event, provided 31 children an unforgettable vacation experience in Orlando this year. The children and their families flew from around the globe on AA and AE flights to visit Central Florida’s attractions and stay at Give Kids the World Village.
“Without these programs, there was no way I’d ever be able to take him to Disney World,” Rodney says. “His medical bills are more than I make every year. This is a dream come true for all of us, actually.”
When that first Friday in October finally rolled around, and when the Vale family arrived in Dallas/Fort Worth to board their connecting flight to Orlando, all of their faces radiated a light not found on any spectrum. That light grew brighter with each vacation day and after every encounter with Mickey.
And the light hasn’t extinguished since their return to Marion. Though the skies over Texas are a little grayer this time of year, and while Tagen has returned to his routine of watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on DVD and singing along, a little catch develops in his voice these days. It’s a catch that conveys emotion, the likes of which can only be conjured by a child who’s been to Mickey Mouse’s house.
A special thank-you from me to all the people and organizations who made this dream a reality for the Vale family.
Have a happy Thanksgiving, America.