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News > Forty-five terminally ill kids tour Westover
 
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Kids of Courage tour Westover
On Jan. 7, 45 terminally and seriously ill children and young adults visited Westover as part of a winter adventure with the New York-based non-profit organization Kids of Courage. A team of more than 165 medical and trained lay staff accompanied the group. Participants toured a C-5, sat in a fire truck, saw an array of robots and simulated explosives, interacted with Army and Marine Corps stations, and even rode in a K-loader outside the Base Hangar. Volunteer Batsheva Katz said, “They’ll be talking about this trip for the next six months.” (US Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Brian Boynton)
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Forty-five terminally ill kids tour Westover

Posted 1/10/2011   Updated 1/10/2011 Email story   Print story

    


by Lt. Col. James Bishop
439th AW Public Affairs


1/10/2011 - WESTOVER, Mass.  -- The three Peter Pan buses looked like any other bus. Eager faces peered out the windows. But as the brakes wheezed to a stop and the oversized door opened to a wheelchair lift, it was clear that this was no ordinary base tour. On Jan. 7, 45 terminally and seriously ill children and young adults visited Westover as part of a winter adventure. There were supposed to be 46. One child died just before the trip.

The New York-based non-profit organization Kids of Courage arranged the tour. The group works to improve the lives of children and young adults with serious medical diagnoses.

A team of more than 165 volunteer physicians, paramedics, nurses, physical therapists, and trained lay staff accompanied the children.

"These are tough kids," said Dr. Stuart Ditchek, attending physician for the trip. "About 80 percent of them are already at or above their life expectancy."

At the Base Hangar, Col. Robert Swain, 439th Airlift Wing commander, told the 45 young people during his welcome, "You're out there facing life head on, showing us what people can do when they face obstacles."

Then the participants, aged 13-24, visited stations positioned around and outside the hangar. Some toured a C-5B cargo bay and were lifted out of their wheelchairs and carried up the 25-foot troop ladder - with safety spotters - to see the cockpit.

Participants also sat in a fire truck, saw an array of robots and simulated explosives, interacted with Army and Marine Corps stations, and even rode in a K-loader outside the Base Hangar.

Participants included 23-year-old Hudi Arieh, born without arms, who will be attending law school next year, and 24-year-old Itzy Kagan, one of the longest-surviving quadriplegics on a ventilator in the world, according to Dr. Ditchek.

"So much of these kids' lives revolves around people telling them 'You can't, you can't.' We wanted to bring them somewhere and say, 'You can,'" said Ari Dobkin, program director for Kids of Courage.

Volunteer Batsheva Katz said the normal social interaction for these kids isn't at school, it's in a hospital, so visiting a military base is a thrill. "They'll be talking about this trip for the next six months."

Kids of Courage hosted its second annual "Ski Madness Weekend" Jan. 6-9. The kids skied at Mt. Snow the day after they toured Westover.

Midway through the tour, as one wheelchair went over a bump in the cold, a front wheel shattered. Within an hour, craftsmen from the 439th Maintenance Squadron made a new set of wheels and bolted them onto the chair.

The children left an impression on the base volunteers. Master Sgt. Tim Day, who led the base-wide, Top-3 sponsored effort, told participants before they left, "You inspire us with your courage."



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