A Carbonear woman received the surprise of her life when a complete stranger offered her a trip across the country to see her grandchildren in Fort McMurray.
Dale Thomas was working in Walmart’s customer service office when a customer handed him a plane ticket.
“I haven’t expected this in a million years,” she said. The stranger gave Thomas a card that read “Gifts around the tree, family around the table, love in your heart and a trip to Fort McMurray to see Madden and Jayda from me.” .
The unknown was Annette Sparkes, a woman from Shearstown. Although the two women did not know each other, they shared a common enemy: Batten disease, a rare group of fatal nervous system disorders that start in childhood and get worse over time.
Sparkes’ twin daughters, Rebecca and Andrea, were diagnosed with Batten disease in 2005 when they were four years old. “I remember the day the twins were diagnosed,” Sparkes recalls. “I got home and went google and the first word that came up was ‘fatal’.” Both daughters died in 2008.
“It’s a horrible disease for children,” Sparkes said.
Thomas’s grandson Madden also suffers from Batten disease. “It’s a neurological disease,” she said. “He’s kidnapping our children. He takes off [their] ability to walk, talk, eat, communicate. It is a relentless disease. “
Madden was diagnosed with the disease two years ago, in December 2019. Thomas has seen it change a lot since then.
“Madden is regressing all the time,” Thomas said.
“It’s a little slowed down now because he’s getting his treatments. But every time I go up there I see a big change in him. Like, he called me Nan, now he doesn’t talk to me anymore, He’s not My name is Nan anymore because he can’t tell. So it’s a big change, and I miss him so much, just want to spend as much time with him as possible.
Madden’s experience with Batten’s disease is chronicled in a Facebook group called Madden’s Fight. It was there that Sparkes first heard about Thomas and his grandson.
Sparkes said she was inspired to help Thomas earlier this month, on the thirteenth anniversary of the death of her daughter Rebecca. “I was walking like I’m doing, and I don’t know, it just occurred to me that I had to help. Madden just came to me, and the girls were with me, and I just felt like I had to give Dale this take out ticket. “
Earlier this year, Sparkes won two free airline tickets from the Children’s Wish Foundation, after raising over $ 4,000 for the foundation’s Walk for Wishes campaign. “I raised the most money in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Sparkes.
Although Sparkes initially thought about using the tickets to see her own friends and family, she decided it was more important for Thomas to have the ticket. “I know where they are as a family,” Sparkes said. “I know she needs to go and… spend time with the family.”
Sparkes says she felt proud when she surprised Thomas with the theft. “I could have jumped on the moon,” she said. “That’s what Christmas is.”
Sparkes says they plan to book the flights during the spring season. “My goal is to have [Thomas] fly first class to Fort MacMurray, ”said Sparkes. She gives the other ticket to her mother, who will also be traveling to Alberta to visit her sister and grandson.
As for Thomas, she says Sparkes is her “Christmas Angel”.
“Over the past two years, I have had to dig deep into my faith,” Thomas said. “But, I’m telling you, I’ve got my faith back now.”
“I honor my daughters too,” Sparkes said. “So it really makes me feel good. “
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