Ryan Jephson’s a pretty easygoing young lad. At age 11, like most of his peers, he gravitates to his computer, loves video games, and prides himself in being a master in the online Club Penguin game.
But life in general has been a little rough on Ryan and especially during the past year.
His father Darren, a baggage handler at the Vancouver airport, was hurt on the job and been unable to work since last August. Then Ryan was ordered to undergo surgery in April to repair damage to his spinal cord.
But Ryan’s world just got a whole lot brighter, thanks to Sunshine – Sunshine Foundation of Canada that is.
The Grade 6 Glenwood Elementary student was granted a wish by the Sunshine Foundation, and just last week returned from a 10-day trip to England to meet family he’s never known.
“After the surgery, he was pretty down… Ryan really needed [a dream] now,” said his mother Annette.
Ryan, his mother, and older brother Matthew, 14, travelled to London, Suffolk, then Annette’s hometown of Norfolk, where 25 family members (some she hadn’t ever met) came together for a reunion in Ryan’s honour.
“Ryan doesn’t really look forward to a lot of stuff,” said Mom, describing him as depressed after the surgery caused a severe loss of mobility. “He was feeling pretty defeated and pretty miserable.”
But in July, his parents took Sunshine Foundation up on their offer of making a dream come true for Ryan.
While most kids ask to meet a celebrity or travel to Disneyland or DisneyWorld, Ryan asked to travel to England.
“He needed to have something to take his mind off things,” Annette said. And planning the trip across the ocean to the United Kingdom did just that.
While the family reunion was meaningful and fun, a highlight for Ryan and Matthew was touring the Second World War navy cruiser the HMS Belfast – which is docked in London along the Thame River.
But the best part of the trip – hands down for young Ryan – was a trip to the London Zoo where he was given one-on-one time with the penguins.
“He was the king of the penguins when he was in the penguin enclosure,” explained his father. “It was a wicked good time. He enjoyed it totally. He’s still talking about it… he’s still smiling.”
Ryan was born with mid-range spina bifada and had his first surgery when he was 36 hours old, then two more before he was five weeks old, and a total of 11 by the time he was just three and a half.
The most recent surgery confines Ryan to a wheelchair almost full time. He’s able to get around home and much of school on crutches. But it will likely be two years before he’s able to walk without aids again, according to doctors. In the meantime, however, he continues to suffer repeated headaches, and must undergo regular physio to strength his legs and back again.
But this trip was a game changer, Darren said. “He’s a totally different kid. He’s enjoying life and it’s been brilliant… he’s been a really, really, really happy kid.”