Jimmy and the dolphins
Jimmy Blando of Port St. Lucie, Fla., who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, is one of the lucky few who've gotten to make friends with a dolphin. In the fall of 2005, when he was 14, Jimmy and his family participated in the dolphin therapy program offered by Island Dolphin Care (IDC) on Key Largo, Fla.
Sarah, Jimmy's dolphin, seemed to take an instant liking to him, said his mom, Tina.
"She would kiss his face and then she would lay her head on his arm," says Tina. "She would give kisses to other people but she never laid her head on their arm that way. But she always did that with Jimmy."
Jimmy also was enchanted. "He said, 'Mommy I can move around now!'" says Tina. "In the water, his legs move. Sarah made him feel so comfortable he felt like he was walking in the water. Sarah made him feel like the King of the Water."
|From left are Anthony (9), Jesse (13), dad Jeffrey, mom Tina, and Jimmy.|
The trip, made possible thanks to IDC financial aid, was a "once in a lifetime experience" for the entire family, says Tina. Since swimming with Sarah, Jimmy has shown more confidence and bravery and has been more willing to go into the family's swimming pool. "I think it helped him spiritually, mentally and physically," says Tina. "Mind, body, spirit. That's what Sarah did for my child."
In addition to swim time, the five-day IDC program includes classroom time, where participants continue to work on therapeutic goals individually designed for their needs.
|Here, Jimmy works with a volunteer intern to create a poster of photos from his swims with Sarah, which he later took home as a memento.|
During "off" hours, the family stayed in a furnished condo that was included in the program fee. "The whole program is so comfortable," says Tina. "They make you feel at peace."
IDC staff calls Sarah "our Gucci Girl. Sarah is a beautiful 'princess' dolphin, who is completely aware of this fact. She knows what she wants, when she wants it, and how to get it."
The Greeks believed that dolphins once were men — pirates to be exact. According to the myth, pirates once unknowingly kidnapped the disguised god Dionysus (a.k.a. Bacchus), who retaliated by causing vines to grow over the ship's masts and turning the oars into serpents.
The pirates were so terrified they jumped into the sea. But Dionysus took pity on them and turned them into dolphins, "so that they would spend their lives providing help for those in need."
Island Dolphin Care was founded by Deena and Pete Hoagland in the early 1990s after seeing the positive effect of dolphins on their young son, who was disabled by a stroke. "We don't suggest that dolphins can cure or heal, but we use the excitement of the dolphins to motivate kids to try new things," explains Pete Hoagland.
Programs run March through November and draw participants from around the world. Financial aid is available. For more information, visit the Web site at www.islanddolphincare.org or call (305) 451-5884.
Swimming with dolphins is thought to have a therapeutic effect on individuals with physical and/or cognitive disabilities. Studies have documented immune system improvement, faster learning, pain relief, improved mood, increased attention span, improved motor skills and coordination, and changes in brain waves and blood chemistry after a dolphin swim.
Why? Theories range from the joy caused by playing with these gentle, intelligent creatures to the possibility that dolphin sonar causes actual physical changes in human tissue.
IDC programs are family-oriented and siblings aren't left out of the fun. In one exercise, Jimmy's younger brother, Anthony, helped hold a bar for Sarah to leap over.
USDA guidelines for dolphin swim programs are listed on its Web site (www.usda.gov; in the search box enter "dolphin swim."). In general, look for: