A Mother Who Wouldn’t Give Up, a Child, and a Dolphin….

There are often situations where we face what seem to be insurmountable odds, unable to break through obstacles, and in truth, that does happen. At times, however, whether you want to call it perseverance, stubbornness, tenacity, faith, or another word, we find a way to beat those odds, to achieve a goal that others may in fact have told you was impossible.

Deena Hoagland is an amazing woman that I had the privilege to recently meet.  Deena and her husband, Peter, head the small staff of Island Dolphin Care in Key Largo, Florida, but their facility is not the place to simply go and frolic with dolphins. Recreational/educational swims with dolphins are available in Key Largo at Dolphins Plus and Dolphin Cove, but Island Dolphin Care provides extraordinary therapy that focuses on special needs children, wounded veterans, and selected other special needs adults.

This remarkable story is provided on their site at www.islandfdolphincare.org, but in essence Deena and Peter’s son, Joe, was born with a heart defect and required multiple surgeries as an infant and toddler. At age three, he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Docotors recommended the family move from the high altitude of Colorado and therapists did what they could for the young boy with minimal results. The medical community basically told the Hoaglands that their son wasn’t likely to ever see much progress. It was their second move in Florida to Key Largo when Deena thought that perhaps aquatic therapy could help, yet even that option didn’t seem available. She contacted everyone she could think of and finally one day, she and Joe were able to come in for a swim at Dolphins Plus after the day’s activities had ended. There was no intent for a dolphin interaction, yet Fonzie, one of the Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins, couldn’t resist at least a little play. Their son’s response to Fonzie gave Deena hope that she could use this initial spark to encourage Joe to achieve small, then greater movements in order to “play” with the dolphin.

Within a year Joe had made remarkable progress, enough to bring attention to Deena’s efforts. By now Deena was convinced of the value of dolphin interaction therapy, but she did not stop with the satisfaction of their son achieving what therapists had said was impossible. She began to tirelessly promote the concept, overcoming skeptcism and the inevitable financial hurdles to initiate therapies in a small way that showed consistent success. Not with every child, of course, but with many. Within a few years, Peter was able to join with her and fully establish the not-for-profit organization as it is today. They have now helped thousands of families as children with autism, cancer, developmental delays, and other needs have experienced breakthroughs in the man-made lagoon where the staff works with the six dolphins. It is an inspiring story that is well worth reading about.

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