Pair to celebrate reunion with matching tattoos
Two Staffordshire women, formerly related by marriage, have met for the first time in five years after their disabled children were both selected for a dream charity holiday to Disney World, in Florida.
And now, having not communicated in any way during the intervening period, the pair are going to celebrate their fortuitous reunion by having matching tattoos.
Joanne Leaman, who had previously been married to Bernadette Leigh’s nephew, had applied for her 12-year-old daughter, Brooke, to go on Caudwell Children’s annual holiday to Disney World in December last year.
The Staffordshire based charity created their Destination Dreams programme in 2007, to give 25 children with life limiting conditions, from across the UK, a once-in-a-lifetime holiday.
When Joanne, a staff nurse at the Royal Stoke Hospital, received the news that Brooke had been selected for the trip she and the family were overjoyed.
Little did she know that Bernadette had also applied for the holiday for her 10-year-old daughter Aimee-Leigh, and that she’d also been selected.
“We were so excited when we arrived at Gatwick Airport on the 2nd of December,” explained Joanne. “Caudwell Children had covered the cost of the holiday for me, Brook, my partner Pete and our son Paignton, and they had booked a family room for us in the Gatwick Hilton Hotel ahead of the flight the following day.
“We’d checked in and we were taking our cases to the room before coming back down to meet the other families who were arriving.
“I simply couldn’t believe it when the lift doors opened and there, standing in the lift, was Bernadette with Aimee-Leigh, her son Daniel, and her two older daughter’s Autumn and Leanne.
“We just stood there looking at each other, open mouthed.”
After initially thinking that they were en-route to another destination Joanne was delighted to find out that they were part of the same party.
“What are the chances of that,” she exclaimed. “Hundreds of families throughout the UK apply for Destination Dreams, and both our children were selected, we were gobsmacked.”
The pair had been good friends when they lived close to each other in Newcastle-under-Lyne, but following Joanne’s divorce and Bernadette’s relocation to Loggerheads, 11 miles away, the pair lost touch.
“Bernadette doesn’t do any social media whereas I do,” said Joanne, “So I think that contributed to the breakdown in communication.
“We were so happy to see each other again and once we got to Florida we were in and out of each other’s villas every day.
“You couldn’t stop us chatting about the past and discussing what our families could do together in the future.”
Caudwell Children, one of the UK’s leading children’s charities, ensured that both families had everything that they needed to have a fantastic holiday. They provided a team of paediatric doctors and nurses, who were available 24hrs a day, and over 40 volunteers to help all the families around the theme parks.
“It was amazing,” enthused Joanne. “The volunteers were brilliant, helping to push wheelchairs and pushchairs and carry bags.
“Brooke has Ullric muscular dystrophy, whilst Aimee-Leigh has epilepsy and neurological abnormalities, so having the medical team on hand really gave us the confidence to get out and enjoy ourselves, we had the time of our lives.”
Since returning to the UK the families have kept in touch, visiting each other’s houses on several occasions.
Joanne, aged 41, and Bernadette, aged 50, both agreed that Destination Dreams had been a life changing experience and they wanted to recognise it in some way.
Both, coincidentally, have nine tattoos discreetly positioned around their bodies and they agreed to have matching tattoos on their ankles!
“When we were talking about Destination Dreams we realised how much it meant to us,” reflected Joanne. “It’s forever in our hearts and we want to live with it in our thoughts each day.
“We wanted to have something visual that would continue to inspire us, and others, because it’s done so much for our families and all the other children who’ve ever been on it.”
But the uncanny coincidences continued when the pair discussed who to choose to ink them. Joanne suggested the tattoo artist, and friend of her family, Anthony Rocket. As she explained: “Six years ago I had a premature baby who died when he was just three weeks old.
“To commemorate his short life Anthony traced my baby’s footprint on the back of my neck and when I was explaining this to Bernadette, to my astonishment, she told me that she’d also used him!
“It was incredible, it was obviously meant to be.”
The pair are now set to have a pair of Micky Mouse ears, a purple heart, and the date that they were reunited, inked on their ankles on Tuesday 5th January, 2019.
“Anthony is a mobile tattoo artist so we’re having them done in the comfort of my home,” concluded Joanne. “Caudwell Children’s volunteers on the holiday all wore purple T-shirts and hoodies and we referred to them as our purple family, so the heart will forever remind us of an inspirational charity that gave us the experience of a lifetime and reunited our families.”
Find out how you could fundraise for Caudwell Children here.