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A dream takes Austin to Orlando

May 07, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

WILLIAMSPORT - Austin Munro never dreamed he would shake flippers with a sea lion.

Thanks to the efforts of a Hagerstown organization, the first-grader at Williamsport Elementary now knows that dreams do come true.

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Dream Come True Inc.- an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that grants the wishes of children with terminal and life-threatening diseases - in February sent 7-year-old Austin and his family on a dream vacation to Sea World and other attractions in Florida.

Austin has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic disease affecting cells in the spinal cord.

His wish was to ride the Amtrak Auto Train to Florida for a vacation with his parents, Ed and Darcy Munro, and his brothers, Derek, 8 and Jack, 4. The family enjoyed a six-day, all-expenses-paid vacation at Give Kids the World Village.

Give Kids The World is a 51-acre resort for children with life-threatening illnesses who wish to visit Walt Disney World and other Central Florida attractions.

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The resort features fully accessible condominiums for guests with disabilities, talking trees and grandfather clocks, free ice cream, arcades, amusement rides and wheelchairs that float in swimming pools, Darcy Munro said.

"I want to live there," Austin said. "It was really fun."

Village volunteers left daily gifts for Austin and threw a party for all the kids one evening so parents could enjoy a night on the town, she said.

Give Kids the World also provided free tickets to all Central Florida attractions.

Animal lover Austin and his family visited Sea World, Gator World, Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, among other venues.

The Dream Come True foundation "was very generous with spending money," Darcy Munro said.

Austin wore an alligator claw necklace, but said he couldn't even name all the other souvenirs that he and his brothers brought home with them.

"On this trip it was 'whatever you want,'" Ed Munro said.

"Dream Come True was amazing," his wife added.

She contacted Give Kids the World after reading about the resort last summer, and was directed to the local organization. Darcy Munro filled out a dream application, and provided proof that Austin had a life-threatening disease, she said.

Austin was the 85th dream recipient since the program was launched in 1986, said Dream Coordinator Gloria Weisz.

"It always seems like these are special, loving people," she said. "They've been kicked in the head, but it just seems like they've been given something extra special to deal with it."

One out of every 40 people carries the gene for SMA, which effects the muscles for activities such as crawling, walking, head and neck control and swallowing, according to the Medicine Net Web site.

One in every 6,000 live births is affected.

"It's the No. 1 genetic killer in children under 2," Darcy Munro said.

Little is known about the disease's causes, and there is no cure, but researchers are "making discoveries in leaps and bounds," she said.

Austin has chronic Type II SMA.

Children with this type may sit unsupported but they are usually unable to come to a sitting position without assistance. Feeding and swallowing can be difficult. Tremors in outstretched fingers are common.

Because of the range of progression seen in patients with Type II it is hard to tell how fast, if at all, the weakness will progress. Some children may survive into adulthood.

Others will die younger from such diseases as pneumonia, which strike SMA sufferers' weakened respiratory systems.

"There's nothing set in stone. We just have to work our hardest to keep Austin healthy," Darcy Munro said. "I guess we've got a healthy dose of denial. We hope for a medical breakthrough."

"We don't fool ourselves, but we don't dwell on it," her husband said. "He's just a kid."

The little boy has been hospitalized at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore three times for pneumonia, his parents said.

But their middle son doesn't let his illness hold him back.

The Cub Scout in Pack 17 enjoys math, bacon, Pokemon trading cards and overnights with his best friend, Dylan Rowe, he said.

The duo won first prize for their costumes in the 1999 Mummer's Parade in Hagerstown. Austin and his wheelchair were outfitted as a bulldozer, while Dylan was a construction foreman. They are planning a train theme for next year, Austin said.

He excels in academics, and will be promoted from first to third grade next year, his parents said.

"He's very social. He's never been down in the dumps. He never feels sorry for himself, but he does think it would be neat to be able to climb stairs," Darcy Munro said. "He's very, very smart and he knows that's his strength."

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