Joel's Story

Joel’s Brave Adventures in Disney

When Trisha first opened the letter telling her that her son Joel’s Sunshine Dream was going to come true, she cried.

“I was so happy to be able to take him somewhere he’s always wanted to go and to not have to worry about anything or where the money was going to come from,” she says of their trip to Disneyland Resort®, where Joel wanted to visit Cars Land and meet Darth Vader. “It was beyond amazing. Sunshine wanted to make it the best it could be for him.”

Imagine having more than twenty invasive surgeries before your eighth birthday. Or, calling a hospital room “home” until you’re nine months old. Imagine countless trips to specialists and weeks-long stays in the hospital following painful procedures.

For the first seven and a half years of his life, that was Joel’s reality. Born three months premature, he weighed less than two pounds and suffered from bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a serious lung condition that required a ventilator to breathe. Surgeries to insert the breathing tube caused scarring to his windpipe, requiring the assistance of a tracheal tube in his neck for breathing support and gastric tube for nourishment.

“It was parenting, but also becoming a nurse to one patient from the get-go,” says Trisha. “He required 24-hour care, so we had nursing staff come in. It’s a crazy dynamic in your life but you figure it out. I tried to make his life as normal as possible.”


Then, at the age of eight, following numerous surgeries, Joel’s tubes were removed, making it possible for him to breathe and eat on his own and experience new adventures, including his Sunshine Dream.

“It was amazing!” said Joel, grinning from ear to ear. After visiting Cars Land to meet his heroes Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater, he fought the Sith Lord from Star Wars with a light sabre.

“Joel is now much braver doing things out of his comfort zone,” Trisha reflects. “He likes watching movies more – even scary ones – because Disney helped him distinguish between story-telling and reality. He’s stretching his imagination, and he’s now drawing many of the stories he invents. His trip also gave him a lot more to talk about with his friends.”

Joel, now nine, continues to share his stories about Disney with his classmates and says he can’t wait to go back someday.

“My dream trip made me happier and braver. It was amazing. It changed my life forever.”