After his adventures in Slovenia and traveling over 1800 kilometers/1100 miles, Champ arrived safely in Ireland. He wasn’t too tired to hand deliver a special note from the Križ family, where they declared he had a fabulous time!
Champ landed in the welcoming arms of the Dempsey family, Mum and Dad – Lorraine and Carl – almost 9-year-old twin girls Rianna and Sadhbh and 5-year-old daughter Freya as well as their animal family of 4 rescue dogs and cats! They live in a spectacular mountainous area just one hour south of the capital city, Dublin. Ireland, “the land of a thousand welcomes,” is a small island off the coast of Europe with beautiful landscapes, castles, ancient monuments and towns. Visitors like Champ are always made to feel welcome and just like Champ, the Irish people are well known for travelling to different countries!
Rianna barely survived her birth and suffered brain damage as a result of not enough oxygen.
Her parents were given no hope for her to live and in a heart wrenching decision, took her off of her ventilator. Having said their goodbyes, they requested that Rianna be placed with her twin. It wasn’t long before Rianna’s breathing matched that of Sadhbh. “We even saw her moving her fingers on Sadhbh’s skin. Something powerful had happened and we have never looked back,” say their parents. Rianna also has a heart murmur that resulted in an additional diagnosis of Tetralogy of Fallot; a complex cardiac defect.
Rianna had open-heart surgery when she was nine months old and within a few days, she giggled and rolled on to her tummy for the first time. Rianna has had a lot of intervention over the years due to her diagnoses of spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy with mild dystonia, epilepsy, microcephaly and global developmental delay.
Like many kids with special needs, she has surpassed everyone’s expectations. Rianna uses a walker and wheelchair and has difficulties with mobility and speech. Because she has some sensory issues due to needing more input to feel things, she has a lot of bruises and scrapes, often not even realizing that she’s been hurt.
All of the interventions, appointments and therapies haven’t stopped Rianna. She loves life and doesn’t live in the shadow of her twin sister Sadhbh, who is developing typically. However, this year has been particularly challenging for Rianna and her family. Rianna was plagued with uncontrollable daily seizures that robbed her of all of her energy and ability to thrive. During this same time, after waiting for a year and trying medications, Rianna was called for surgery on her salivary ducts to reduce her drooling. While she was in the hospital recovering, the team was able to finally manage the seizures.
Luckily for Champ and the Dempsey family, his arrival coincided with Rianna finally feeling better. Her life has returned to her normal busy schedule of appointments so Champ has been a visitor on many road trips. He’s been to the largest children’s hospital in Ireland, to the ENT Surgeon and to Rianna’s disability service, Enable Ireland, for a special clinic with Australian occupational therapists to fit her for a special Lycra suit. A very international day for a very international traveler! Besides being a great friend, Champ also helps with the anxiety that comes with interventions and change of routine for kids with special needs.
Champ enjoyed lots of other activities during his visit. He ran in the largest women’s marathon in Dublin (to raise money for Special Needs Parents Association) where Rianna handed out t-shirts. He visited Rianna’s new school with her to meet staff and students. And went to a Build-A-Bear Workshop! The staff was especially excited to meet Champ because the Bear Builder Associates knew about his travels. He got the star treatment and came away with a new t-shirt and stamped passport. The staff gave Rianna a goody bag including a little bear signed by Champ’s friends at the store.
And at the end of each busy day during his visit, Champ snuggled in with the girls and a purple dinosaur and pink bear. The truly remarkable thing about Champ is that his snuggles are international and can be understood in any language. No translation necessary. That really makes him lucky.