“To see Lea dance with the dolphins again! That was our greatest wish. She is 11 years old and has DiGeorge Syndrome (22q11 microdeletion) and a brain malformation (polymicrogyria). She is non-verbal, non-mobile and has severe scoliosis.
In the summer of 2021, Lea was able to experience her first dolphin therapy on Curacao. It was just terrific. Lea was super motivated from day 1, loved her team of therapist, assistant, and dolphin. That motivation and energy was more than we could have wished for. It is difficult to foresee in advance how the child will react to the unfamiliar animals, strangers, environment, and climate. It was very emotional to see how she trusted herself more and more, how she was able to break away from us parents and had the fun of her life. We didn’t have to wait for long-term results – we knew that we would definitely try again to make the therapy possible for her. Her joy alone was worth it to us.
A year after the first therapy, Lea’s scoliosis, which we had treated with a corset and physio, was operated on. Rods that grow with the child (Magec Rods) were used to straighten and support the spine. The time after that was very difficult for everyone, but we always had one goal: Lea will (without a corset!) travel to see the dolphins again!
She recovered from the surgery and in May 2023, almost 10 months after the surgery, we went to the Curacao Dolphin Therapy and Research Center a second time. Lea was already looking forward to it, as she already knew what to expect. And it was as if she had only been gone for two weeks. Although she got a whole new team, she was immediately fully motivated again. This time she was able to focus much better, was more with herself, where two years before she preferred to see what the other patients were doing. The operated spine was no problem at all.
It was a real joy to see her surpass herself a little every day. She was much more active in the water, imitated the commands, was simply super proud of herself. A highlight was certainly when she was able to do a little dance with all four female dolphins. Lea’s therapist always came up with something to get her out of her comfort zone, to challenge her, but also to offer her a great sense of achievement. We were very enraptured by the loving way the children were treated. Not only was Lea’s team always at eye level with her, but so were all the other wonderful people who come and go at the CDTC. Not a day without at least five high fives for Lea.
We can now see further successes – 4 weeks after the therapy – and have them confirmed by her doctors, therapists and supervisors. After years of practice, Lea can finally nod her head to say yes. That was not practiced in therapy, but the knot has definitely come undone. She can now move about in a wheelchair much more enduringly and safely. This was not explicitly practiced either, but something has happened to her self-awareness and self-efficacy. In therapy, she implements demands that are placed on her more quickly. She no longer protests as quickly and often when things get tiring. The therapy with the dolphins gave her important impulses again and we are very excited to see what else this will trigger.
For us as a family, the time with the dolphins was as valuable as it was the first time. We also received tips, motivation, and fresh energy for everyday life. It still has an effect for so long and each of us dreams back at least once a day. Thanks for all that!”