Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Morgan's Inspiration Island Water Park: A Special Needs Utopia

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Morgan's Inspiration Island is the world's very first fully accessible water park had it's grand opening this year on June 17th.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that Noah would be blessed with the opportunity to visit it, much less on opening season.  We learned of a local organization who grants children adventure trips through Noah's participation with HopeKids called Brave Young Hearts.  I sat on the idea for weeks before applying and delayed a couple weeks more, before actually submitting the required application for consideration.  I think I've grown too accustomed to bad news and the word no, and continual rejection in any form is painful.   But Papa Bear, one of the board of directors of Brave Young Hearts, was persistent and kept encouraging me to apply regardless of the all the reasons I could think of that Noah would likely be rejected.   A long shot I thought - Noah's wish to travel out of state to San Antonio, Texas to experience for the first time in his life a water park that was designed to be fully accessible for children just like him.

And to our complete surprise and extreme delight Noah was chosen for an adventure trip.  I think I had re-read the email about six or seven times before I really could believe it. Then I said don't get your hopes up because what if there are strings attached like you've got to pay airline fees, or hotel room or provide for things like our own food allowance or rental car - none of which we could do.  Yet, Brave Young Hearts set all our concerns at ease immediately taking care of every single detail of Noah's trip from big to small.   We were in just awe of this incredible and unexpected blessing to come Noah's way.

The timing was divine in it's own way.  It's been a hard year, financially, emotionally and medically as we've fought our way through a lot this year.  I would be lying if I said it didn't take it's toll on the entire family in some way.  Our reserves were low.  Nothing about our lives feels remotely normal.  And here Noah was given a chance to experience being normal - in a world designed around his needs and not the other way around.

Noah's trip was planned for the very last weekend the water park was open for the season. And we counted down the days as if we were waiting on Christmas.  Luke even more excited as Brave Young Hearts is such an incredibly loving organization that they went out of their way to include Noah's little brother Luke in this adventure trip and blessed Luke with a day at SeaWorld.  Which is huge in Luke's world.  Since around the age of three, Luke has had a rather unique obsession with ocean life - an in particular orca whales.  Brave Young Hearts coordinated lunch with Shamu and a day at the park.  A dream come true for both children - a parent's dream to see both of their children incredibly happy at the same time.

We hopped a plane (after TSA issues that are always present when we fly with Noah), said a little prayer that his wheelchair would survive the trip, and a leap of faith that all would be beyond incredible once we landed in Texas.  Our first night was a little rocky.  Noah always gags and vomits on take offs and landings, however he vomited a bit more than usual on this trip.  No one really knows why.  Noah's severe sensory processing disorder can be very unpredictable at times.  He never fully recovered from his SPD episode on the plane and wound up gagging and throwing up into the late hours in Texas, going though the only 2 sheets I packed for his special needs travel bed, three showers and 2 pajamas later.   We weren't concerned with Noah being sick - we knew this was sensory related, but nonetheless overwhelming for him and for us.  Chris and I starred at each other dazed and tired both hoping that Noah would rebound to normal to enjoy Morgan's Inspiration Island the next day.

We had a late start - sleeping in until 9:30am and missing breakfast.  But we got our engines running and Noah was full of smiles by the next morning.  He had settled into a level of comfort and was ready to explore the day and we were relieved that his SPD episode seamed to be over.   We hopped into the rental van (which was perfect for Noah's needs and felt like this travel security blanket while we were away from home), and headed out for a day of fun at Morgan's Wonderland and Morgan's Inspiration Island. 

We were drawn to the accessible ferris wheel.  I've never seen anything like it before anywhere.  Little bell shaped cabins with an accessible option to tie down Noah's wheelchair so he could enjoy the ride.  It was really windy so the cabin bells swayed quite a bit which can cause a bit of motion sickness... although Noah seemed to breeze through that more than the rest of the family did.  But he enjoys motion in a different way than the rest of us do.  It was neat to be able to do that with Noah - something that we can't do anywhere else in the world.  We rode the accessible go carts, played at a bit at the sensory village before we headed over to Inspiration Island which opened an hour later than the rest of the park.  
When you walk into Inspiration Island you are greeted with an attendant that assists you with your water park needs.  For Noah that meant he needed to be fitted with a waterproof wheelchair for the park.  Our attendant was Louisa and she was exceptional.  She looked over Noah and immediately knew his needs and what he would need for positioning and what size wheelchair he would need.  Let me tell you all that Noah's DME (Durable Medical Equipment Provider) still can't do this.  And Louisa - bless her heart - is simply amazing.  She is gifted and she cares.  She does her job so well.  Too well as I wanted to pack her up and bring her home.  The girl knows her equipment and what children like Noah need. 
Within minutes she had picked out the right sized Convaid Waterproof wheelchair for Noah, fitted him with beaded head support and the right sized harness.  She also knew that Noah would need hip positioning and had a small wedge pillow but then went even further as she didn't want him sticking to the plastic so she lined it with a piece of neoprene fabric.  She had covered every single important detail.  Louisa was pure gold. 
The changing stations are magnificent.  There are several of them with large barn doors, with enough room to accommodate an entire family with all the changing table accommodations one could ever dream and hope for.  Some rooms had ceiling lifts, some had fixed tables, some had power tables that lowered and raised.  If you had an ADA need it was all there.  They even have air powered waterproof power wheelchairs - and those are so cool.  I mean super cool.  Whoever dreamed that up deserves a high five and a fist bump.

We hadn't had lunch so decided to have lunch at the park.  There are actually two restaurants at Inspiration Island but only one was open since it was the closing weekend for the park.  They had a great variety to chose from, typical amusement park food, but fun for the entire family.  The benches were all accessible and in the shade.  After we had a bite to eat it was then time to get our feet wet - literally. 

Noah had never seen a water park before, and never had been splashed by water or or near fountains in his life.  So it was a completely new experience for him.  The first time he felt the water from a small fountain he laughed and instantly understood water equals fun.   Happy squeals and infectious laughter followed and my heart just swelled.  Thank goodness it was a water park because my eyes swelled with happy tears (and certainly I didn't want the rest of the world to notice).  These are the kinds of experiences everyone dreams about when you have a child like Noah.  A parent like me literally lives for our child's happiness.  Noah is forced to enjoy the world around him differently because of his physical limitations but at Inspiration Island nothing is out of reach for him.  Nothing.  He can do every single activity there with ease.

We decided to do the water ride before the remainder of the water park.  The water ride is so cool.  It is fully accessible too with a hydraulic ride that raises and lowers Noah's wheelchair so he can ride in the back with us in the front as the lazy river ride passes by fun animals, music and sound.  It was relaxing and wonderful and Noah loved it.  We only rode it once due to time, and I wish we had been able to ride it several more times.  I really loved it. 

Most of the water park is not heated.  Only one attraction of the park is heated.  But, we did all the non-heated areas first and the water was comfortable - likely due to the hot temperatures in San Antonio.  But the entire family was comfortable with the water temperature.  We splashed, we played we ran around.  Luke got attached to a very small water slide and playfully engaged with other little kids just like him.   Everything you could ever wish for is at Inspiration Island - comfortable cabanas, an abundance of lawn chairs, multiple accessible bathrooms, incredible changing rooms, waterproof wheelchairs both manual and power - loving attendants, great food - loads of smiles from all families there.  It's like special needs utopia.   There is not a single thing that they could have done any better. 
I wish so badly that we could find a way to give this experience to Noah yearly.  It is something I really think that children like Noah really need in their lives.  It is such a magical place and children like him are so deserving of this happiness.  They have to go through so much - too much.  And we all should strive for this pure joy that exists at Morgan's.  I wish a place like Morgan's existed in every state.  It's so needed.  Morgan's is a living dream.  We stayed until they closed which was 4pm.  We didn't want to leave.  We spent the last few minutes at the heated section of the park.  Oddly enough Noah couldn't get his body to go from non-heated to heated.  You would think it would be the other way around.  But since we experienced the heated park last his body actually shivered in the heated section.  We've always known that Noah can't regulate body temperature but it was curious to us that his body actually shivered in the warm water and no where else - almost as if his body was confused going from non-heated to heated.  The opposite of how the rest of us would react.  We decided it was probably best to bundle him up and dry him off although he certainly didn't want to leave and started to give us the pouty lip.  Which of course breaks your heart every time knowing that his fun has come to an end and that I can't bring him back the next day, or next week or even likely next year no matter how hard I wish for it. 
Brave Young Hearts provided Noah with such an incredible blessing and we are so grateful for the love and kindness that they gave not just to Noah but the entire family.  Out of a place of great pain with the loss of their own child, they are providing so many beautiful memories and experiences to others so that they joy they are missing can live on for others. There are sometimes not enough words to ever express a proper thank you for the magnitude of it all.

Morgan's Inspiration Island is a place you must visit.  You won't be disappointed.  It is pure perfection. 


Noah's Miracle by Stacy Warden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.