ORLANDO, Fla. (WTXF) - It goes without saying that every child is special, but for parents of children with special needs or those facing chronic illness each day can be a challenge.
So what if you could give those parents and their kids a great day, one filled with fun and laughter they'd never forget? Our Bruce Gordon has just experienced such a day.
It was barely dawn, but the Air National Guard hangar at the Trenton-Mercer airport was packed with well-wishers here at the behest of the Sunshine Foundation, to send 90 or so tiny travelers off in style.
"The goal is to put smiles on these children's faces-- for a day, at least. And that's what we're doing."
The foundation's Mercer County chapter raises money all year long to make possible a whirlwind, one-day trip to Walt Disney World for special needs children, and those with serious, chronic illnesses.
There's Niki Ramirez, of Levittown, Bucks County, with her 9-year-old twins, Bryanna and Shayna.
Born premature, an abnormality in the growth of their brains and skulls, leaves both girls with headaches and nerve pain. Both have undergone numerous surgeries and suffered through countless hospital stays.
In fact, Niki recorded their reaction when she revealed this morning's trip to the doctor's office was, in fact, a visit to the Magic Kingdom.
"We're in the hospital all the time. So, just a day at Disney it's just it's going to let us forget about everything for a few hours and just, enjoy," Niki said.
The foundation has plenty of help to make this trip happen.
New Jersey State Police are on hand to see the children off and help them board.
Miami Air International gives the foundation a break on the cost of the charter flight and Disney discounts the park passes.
By 8 a.m., the plane is off the ground and the party has already begun.
Some of these kids don't need a jetliner; they're already floating on air. The adults are just as excited.
Barbara Janukowicz is chaperoning four high schoolers-- this is her fifth year on the trip.
"Oh, I tear up. It's amazing. The look in their eyes and they always tell me, it's the best day of their life," Barbara told FOX 29's Bruce Gordon.
By noon, Operation Dreamlift is in the Magic Kingdom.
The Ramirez girls rush to ride Dumbo.
Niki and Shayna take a flyer on the Barnstorming roller coaster.
Then they cool off at the spray park. Ed Burek, a State Police detective, is their chaperone for the day, helping to get Bryanna on and off rides...and keeping the girls laughing. His own sister had gone on this trip 14 years ago.
But the highlight of their day is the chance to visit The Little Mermaid at Ariel's Grotto.
The twins had been waiting for this for a long time, and Bryanna tells me it did not disappoint.
By 6 p.m., it's time to leave the park. The Sunshine Foundation kids are still buzzing over their special day.
Shayna Ramirez hasn't stopped smiling since she got here.
Soon enough, the Ramirez twins will be back home in Bucks county-- back to their usual routine of doctor's visits and surgeries and more pain than any little girl should have to endure.
But as Operation Dreamlift heads for home, trading the Florida sunshine for the damp chill of Central Jersey, Niki Ramirez reflects on the importance of this day.
"We had no worries. We didn't have to think of any health issues. It just takes so much stress off-- it's nice. It's like being 'normal.' And we don't get that often," Ramirez said. "The whole day was just priceless!"
You might even call it...magic.