The Chapman Intermediate School sixth-grader thought he was on the basketball court at Phillips Arena to shoot a couple free throws during halftime of the Atlanta Hawks game, but Weiss showed up and gave him some big news: he and his family were selected to go on Bert’s Big Adventure, an all-expense paid trip to Walt Disney World for a week starting Feb.21.
Started by Weiss and his wife Stacy in 2002, the non-profit organization takes a group of about 13 children with chronic and terminal illnesses and their families on a trip to Disney each year, with special perks including limousine transportation and surprise events throughout the week.
“Every year, we try to re-invent one aspect of the trip,” Weiss said of surprising some of the families this year. “We were just looking to do something a little bit bigger and a little bit better.”
Bryson received a kidney transplant earlier this year because he suffers from medullary cystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder he and his sister, 13-year-old Sarah Dickman, both have.
At school Wednesday, Bryson said he was really happy he was picked.
“I get to go ride rides and meet Mickey Mouse and all the characters,” Bryson said.
Bryson said he liked meeting Weiss and thanked him for inviting his family on the trip.
“He’s nice and he helps people,” Dickman said of the radio host.
Bryson’s mother, Lori Dickman, said she just recently nominated her son for the trip and got a call from Weiss last week saying a listener who won five tickets to the Hawks game was unable to go.
“Bryson loves basketball,” she said. “I thought, ‘my son is going to be so surprised.’”
But neither Lori nor Bryson knew what was in store for the evening.
A limousine came to their Woodstock home to bring them to the game and during halftime, a group of cheerleaders asked Bryson to compete in a free throw game.
A typically shy boy, Bryson finally went onto the court with his father, Joe, after encouragement from his mother.
“Then Bert showed up on the court and told us everything,” Lori Dickman said. “I started crying. It was unbelievable.”
Weiss said part of the reason Bryson was picked was because his chronic illness shows the struggles families face when dealing with constant medical issues.
“He’s had a really tough, long journey,” Weiss said.
Lori Dickman said her family has never had the money to go to Disney World and her children, including 6-year-old Logan, are excited for their first plane ride.
“It was just such, such a huge surprise for us,” she said. “(Bert’s) an amazing person, him and his wife, and the program they came up with is just incredible.”
She said all three of her kids are excited to meet the other children and she and Joe are looking forward to meeting other parents who go through similar challenges dealing with their children’s health issues.
“Sarah and Bryson went through so much,” Lori Dickman said. “At some points, I really thought I was going to lose both of them.”
Lori Dickman said both Bryson and Sarah, after feeling sick from dialysis treatments and exhausted by normal daily routines, have asked her in the past if they were going to die.
“It’s so stressful and so hard on me,” she said. “I still worry and I still pray that they don’t reject their kidney and the kidney keeps working. Either of their kidneys could be rejected and they would be back on dialysis… I don’t know how long it will last.”
But she said Bert’s Big Adventure is a gift she could never have imagined for her family.
“For them to get the opportunity to do something like this, with what they’ve experienced with all of their medical issues, it’s a dream come true,” she said. “I’m so glad they invited us because they have that chance to have fun and not ever think about being sick while they are there.”
In 2008, Sarah received a kidney from an Oak Grove Elementary School parent Laura Bolan and Bryson received one this year from Tina Jennings, who saw a flier about Bryson at the Cartersville allergy clinic where his mother works.
Lori said Sarah is doing well after an increased dosage of anti-rejection medicine and is able to stay awake and alert throughout the school day at E. T. Booth Middle School.
Bryson gets blood work done every two weeks following his March transplantation and is doing well, his mother said.
“Bryson is back to riding his bike and hasn’t been getting sick at all,” she said.
Lori said she still worries at each appointment that Bryson’s tests may come back with dire results, and makes sure her son, Logan, who does not have the genetic disease, gets checked every year.
However, Lori said she and Joe keep the family positive through their faith in God and go every Sunday to Woodstock Christian Church, where they were both baptized six months ago.
“I feel like God is looking out for us,” she said. “The kids have been through so much, so here’s their time to have fun and do things they’ve never done before.”