Not every great gift this holiday season came wrapped in paper and topped with a bow. Some arrived by email, attached to a photo.
That was certainly the case when I opened a recent email sent by a Disney Vacation Club member from Kansas named Mike. A proud and grateful father of three, Mike thanked cast members for the powerful role they played in the life of his son Brandon, born with Cerebral Palsy and confined to a wheelchair. Brandon passed away this year at the age of 16.
“For the past 9 years, my family and I have visited Disney World at least once and sometimes twice a year,” Mike wrote. “Every time we would go to Disney World, something magical would happen. From Mickey pushing his wheelchair … to Pluto dancing with him or Minnie kissing him … I have so many thoughts and stories that I could go on for days … Brandon only lived 16 years, but he had a great life. Thirteen trips to Disney, and he never got tired of it. He kept our family young at heart, and we learned to take nothing for granted.”
Addressing Walt Disney World Resort cast members, Mike wrote, “You should be very proud of the work you do and how you impact more lives than you probably realize. I am crying right now (tears of joy) as I think of all the hard work and dedication you show to everyone. At Disney World, Brandon truly was treated just like everyone else. Well, maybe a little better than most. We are saddened by his passing but grateful to have such warm memories. I have two other children, and our return to Disney is inevitable. We have so many great memories, and Brandon LOVED the Parks. How can we top that? I just wanted to say thank you for giving him dignity, honor and respect. I hope you know the value of your work and how it makes a difference in the lives of many. With much love, I thank you again.”
Brandon’s photo will appear prominently in a Member mosaic on the spring 2012 cover of Disney Vacation Club’s Disney Files Magazine as a small tribute to an enormously inspiring young man.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful story and it serves to remind me to be extra appreciative of the cast members next time we visit.
That was beautiful and moving. That’s why I love Disney, for the way they treat everyone. Thank you all for making each and every one of us feel special.
We have been to Disney too many times to mention….my mom was a big fan and loved to go there. The last few times we took her, she was in a wheelchair because of her age and she just couldn’t walk the parks any more. Unfortunately, 2009 was her last trip with us. She was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer. She was on hospice care at our house for 6 months, and she said to me, I don’t think I can go to Disney with you this year. She passed away two weeks later. I miss her so much and everytime we go to Disney, we think of her. Disney will always be close to my husbands, my childrens and my heart. Thank you for all the great memories!
What a great story! The cast members should be very proud of the impact they have made not just on this young mans life, but the lives of countless others who have passed through the gates of this magical place. Each of our 20+ trips to WDW have provided much to my family over the years! Blessings to all those who keep Walt’s vision alive!
First of all, I am so sorry for this family’s loss. It sounds like this child was a true gift and I glad we was born into Mike’s family, who loved and celebrated him so. I do believe that God finds the right parents for the right child, and we adapt to parent the children put in our care (by tummy, or by fate). His smile is infectious.
Again, I have to thank Disney for doing it right from the 1st brick. The whole place is universally designed so ALL guests are welcomed and given access.
It is a place where parents of children with special needs can truly feel like they are on vacation. The training that cast members receive (somehow…I don’t know how you do it) mean that every person finds a way to make things work for families who may have unusual circumstances. Children with disabilities are princesses or pirates (knights/rockstars…whatever) first.
Thank you is the tip of the iceberg.
And Mike, I’m sorry for your loss doesn’t even scratch the surface. XOXO
I confess that over the years I have become a bit of a cynic when it comes to WDW, but every once in a while a story like this comes along that reminds me why I fell in love with Disney. We all take things for granted. This is a great example of the little extra things that Disney cast members do above and beyond to make dreams come true!! Thanks Ryan for posting this letter and thank you to every cast member that go the extra step to make even the smallest dream come true!!
What a touching story….God Speed Brandon… I am sure you touched many lives as well…. Even now, you may have given someone with challenges the courage to venture out and do something different….Do something extraordinary…
My thoughts are with Brandon’s family and I so appreciate the magic of Disney – i experienced while recovering from cancer treatment….
Thank you for sharing….We all need to hear and see the magic….
Wow, wow and wow! What an amazing family.
As the mother of a young lady (18 years old) with Down Syndrome, I can totally agree that children and adults with special needs are made to feel totally awesome while at WDW. They are truly treated like princesses and princes. We have been to WDW numerous times and became DVC members a few years back just so we could continue to treat her to trips to the most magical place on earth. Thank you to all the Cast Members from another parent who knows just how special you can make someone with special needs feel. Thank you to Brandon’s family for sharing the photo with everyone. Looking forward to the spring Disney Files to see the special picture!
People always ask us why we go to Disney World for our family vacation every year.. the answer is simple, because of the “magic” and hartwarming stories like this. We have children with special needs and Disney makes our family vacations much more enjoyable. Disney is so accomidating and understanding of families with special needs children and they know how to make everyone feel special! Thanks for sharing Brandon’s story and for the reminder of just how precious and priceless every moment with our children and family truly is!!!
Disney World really is magical. My family first visited in May of 2009, one year after we lost our two-year-old son Gabe to leukemia (AML). We went to celebrate his birthday, the anniversary of his passing, and his far too short life. At first, I hoped that his older brother Jack, who was five at the time, would just have fun and not notice how sad his father and I were. And that was the magic- we were ALL so happy- happy to be together, happy to be some place so special, and happy to remember our boy. Since our first visit, we’ve joined the DVC. We plan to visit each year in May to celebrate Gabe, and we hope to come again in October. The Cast Members help take care of every little detail and every need that we’ve ever had. Thank you so much to everyone for making our experiences so perfect!
As somebody who not only has a huge love for all things Disney but a love too for people living with special needs this totally warms my heart and has me crying as I type this!
I have always held the opinion that Disney is a GREAT place to take individuals with special needs and I have even experienced some Disney Magic Miracles with my friend’s kids who are very profoundly affected by their special needs!!
I look forward to the day that I can bring my boyfriend, who lives with Cerebral Palsy, down to experience our own Disney Magic Miracles!!!
Keep up the AWESOME work!!!
Kelly D < 8(:-D
Ryan, Thank You for sharing this letter with us! It is heartwarming and so inspirational. Working at Disney is a job for some, but a passion for many of the cast members! Keep up the great work!
As a 25-year Cast Member, I wanted to add my sincere thanks for sharing this story. It’s a wonderful reminder to see how the work we do each and every day touches people and brings joy into their lives. Happy New Year and best wishes to all of our Cast Members and Guests worldwide.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful letter. This is what I love about Disney.
I agree Disney is special. Are vacation was always centered around Disneyland. My husband loved it and passed this along to our two kids. He passed away when they were 8 and 12. We still go there whenever funds will permit. They love it there and somehow with the Disney magic there it feels he is there right along with us. May we never lose that feeling or the magic Disneyland holds.
There are so many untold stories and so many ways Disney touches countless lives. Thanks for sharing one, as I live one.
As a parent, this story made me tear up. What a strong family. They will remember their son each and every time they enter the Disney World parks.
Disney World does the same for me and my daughter. We go every year, just the two of us. This is where we catch up, be silly and relive her younger years. The Disney parks is what I relate most of her childhood to. Our favorite memories are inside those parks, at the resorts and shopping at Downtown looking for pins. Now that she’s a young women, I look forward to taking her children to those same parks one day. Still, I can’t help but to tear up a little bit when I see a little girl walk by dressed as a princess holding a parents hand.
Thank you for sharing this heartwarming story with us.
Just makes everything else seem insignifcant.
This is why I continue to go back to Disney Parks day in and day out because the cast members are the reason behind it. Everyone there does an incredible job at playing there role and going that extra mile all the time. I love it and will continue to go there, I hope that one day I have children and will be able to take them as well!
I’m so sorry for the loss of Brandon. I’m sure he brought much joy to all who knew him. We have a 16-year-old son named Christian, who also has cerebral palsy. He’s only been to Disney a few times, but we have experienced the same special care from Cast Members, and the statement, “At Disney World, [he] was treated like everyone else,” could have been spoken by us. It is the most wonderful vacation destination for our entire family, including our three young daughters, but especially for Christian!
As Nicole from PA commented …a truly touching story.I live in Australia and have two wonderful children, 19 and 17.I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Disneyland four times with them at various stages of their youth.My children are now grown up and have become “independant” in many ways… we are planning our next (and possibly last) holiday together and have considered where to go. Gold Coast Queensland? Sydney? Hawaii? San Francisco? NO..my 19 year old daughter wants to visit Disney World, and my son agrees.Disney’s impact on my children and family is undeniable.All at Disney should be proud of the positive impact you have on so many lives.My children have grown up with good values and strong family values also and i thank you for you role in instilling this.
What a touching story. This is why I love Disney World. No matter who you are, you can’t help but love this place. It takes children like Brandon to make us all sit back and really appreciate what all Disney has to offer.
My mom died when I was 5 and her one request to my aunt was to make sure she took me to Disney World, as my mom had always wanted to take me. 2 years later we were on our way to Disney World. I now understand why I was taken to Disney World so many times as a child. When I enter Disney World, I look around and know my mom is smiling down and there with me enjoying every moment with me.
To Brandon’s family, know he will be there with you every second of your trip and be having just as much fun watching you as you are remembering all the amazing times you had with him there. Here’s to making more memories.
This is a hart warming story. I´m glad Brandon had a wonderfull time with his family and it´s great they can look back on all those wonderfull times and relive them when they return.
I try to get my nephew to WDW with his 2 sons. He visited the park a few times until they got kids. His wife died a year later. He wants to show the boys all the experiances that mom and he loved and share them with his sons. Budget is a big problem but he will get there someday. That´s what you are doing Disney and I salute all you hard workers for making the best memories who last a lifetime.
And this is why we love Disney Parks the way we do!