A Very Special Letter Written to IDC

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For our blog post this week, I wanted to share with you a very special letter we recently received here at Island Dolphin Care.  This letter was written by one of the children in a family that recently attended our one week program.  Our hearts are full reflecting on the joy that Island Dolphin Care has given this family and so many others.  Please don’t hesitate to share your own thoughts and IDC experiences in the comments below.  We love hearing from our families and feel grateful and blessed to have you in our lives!

Love, Deena

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April 15th till May 7th

First I will tell you what dolphin therapy actually is, because it’s very unknown.

Dolphin therapy is for children, but also for adults, with Down syndrome, autism, or another mental disorder. It’s also for children with developmental delays. There are several goals that people can achieve with dolphin therapy. The most important goal is the positive experience and the fun that the children have when they are playing with the dolphins. For other goals, they look at the development and capabilities of the child. It’s often the intention that children learn how to communicate and look people in the eye. Some other goals are social skills, self-confidence, independence, emotional stability and extend of the concentration.

Friends of us, have a foundation: “Stichting Twarne.”  They will help families with children with special needs to go to Island Dolphin Care in Florida to have dolphin therapy. They asked my parents if it was something for us. They were doubting, because we’ve never travelled that far, and they were not really sure if it was something for them. But when I heard, that we had a chance to do this, I kept saying that we had to do this! Of course, it was new, and exciting, but if you never try, you’ll never know! Eventually they thought I was right. We planned the trip, for three weeks to Florida and then we had two weeks dolphin therapy. I was very curious, how it would be, to be in America, to swim with dolphins, and would it work, the therapy? It were all questions and we had to find the answers by ourselves.

When we arrived in Florida, we were very tired because of the jetlag. But the first day, we wanted to visit Island Dolphin Care, because for my brother it’s important to know how things would work the next week. IDC was just a five minute walk from our cottage there. When we were at IDC, the feeling we had, was so special, like we came home or something, the people were so lovely, they showed us everything, and we could watch a therapy session. I’d never seen a dolphin this close, and they were so huge, and so beautiful, it was magical to be there, to see the children having fun with their therapist en the dolphin!

I saw a dolphin with a pink belly, her name was Bella they said, she is the dolphin who gives 110%. She likes to jump the highest, swim the fastest en talk the loudest. Her unique pink coloration makes her stand out from the crowd! I didn’t know why, but I really want that she became our dolphin for the two weeks.


We met Pete and Deena Hoagland, they were the founders of IDC. They are the most wonderful people I’ve ever met! They told me their story. They have a son, named Joe Hoagland. He got off to a rough start in life, he was born with a heart defect that required numerous surgeries, Joe suffered a massive stroke during one of those surgeries. It partially paralyzed his left side, leaving him unable to stand, sit or lie down without help, he was only three years old. Because Joe had not responded well to traditional therapy, his mother Deena, a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and teacher, thought water activities might give Joe more physical freedom. So Deena took Joe to Dolphins Plus, a Key Largo facility that offered public swims with dolphins. That’s the place were Joe met Fonzie, a Atlantic bottle nose dolphin, and there their remarkable journey began. Joe recovered form the paralysis trough hard work and the inspiration he got from is relationship with Fonzie. Deena believed that if dolphins could help Joe feel better about himself, and motivate him to try new tasks, then the dolphins might also help others, and so IDC was born.


Deena Hoagland wrote a book about their story, it was so beautiful to read. I’ve learned a lot from her. Here is a quote from her book:

We are always one breath away. From one breath to the next, one moment to the next, life can change. Why do we not know how important each moment is? We never know until we have to know. Then, whenever something huge happens in our lives – the important moments – we remember them as if in slow motion; aware of the smells, the sounds, that moment itself when life stopped, when life changed.

So many moment in life are taken for granted. The next breath we take can bring love, disaster or something beautiful. If only I knew to celebrate each breath as if it were the first, or possibly the last, how much greater life would be! How many breaths have I wasted wanting something I did not have, dreaming of what-if, or living in fear. If only I could celebrate this breah, I would realize – have realized –  so much sooner that this breath is the only one that counts right now; the only one I have right now. How much easier and more meaningful would this life have become? We are all just one breath away from something meaningful, something big, all of the time..

 I think this is beautiful, this is how life should be lived!

The weekend before the therapy started I was very nervous, but then it was Monday! We heard who our therapist would be, and which dolphin would assisted us during the sessions. And I still don’t know why, but I was right! Bella was our dolphin, the pink princess dolphin! She was so beautiful. Our therapist was Kim, she is a wonderful person. Normally siblings may not go in to the water, she told me, but I had to translate for my brother, so I was very lucky! Then we went to the dock, I thought that we would just meet the dolphin, so Bella knew who we were. But no, my brother Sem and I had to go in the water, and we could touch the dolphin, and swim with her. When I’m writing this it’s still a magical feeling, to swim with a dolphin. I really can’t describe the feeling I had, it was like Bella and I were the only one in the world at that moment, I didn’t think about anything else. And then, when I saw my brother swimming with Bella, I think I was the happiest person in the whole world, to see him laughing and having fun, he was so relaxed, I’d never seen him like that, it was amazing. And then I looked at my parents, sitting on the dock, they could also touch the dolphin, and they could give her a kiss. It was amazing to see, how much fun we had, how wonderful it all was.

PlayingwDolphin1   PlayingwDolphin2
After the swim, we went inside, where we had a session in the class room. My brother was making a book, he had to choose a picture of the therapy sessions in the water, then he had to describe what he was doing there, and how that made him feel. Because he finds it difficult to describe his feelings, but after a few days, he became better in it. We could also play games, like “guess who?!”. That was our favourite game, we had so much fun playing it!


We also had to paint, you could make a T-shirt or a pillowcase, or a bag. It was so much fun to be creative with the whole family, it was an amazing experience.


During this vacation, we learned so much. Sem and I have a much stronger bond, and it was always strong, but we did this together, we swam with a dolphin! We did that, I can’t describe how it feels. It was just magical I think.

Saying goodbye to Island Dolphin Care was the hardest thing, there were a lot of tears, not only from us, but also from our therapist Kim, from Pete, Deena and Joe Hoagland. It felt like saying goodbye to our family.

My father said: “The question is not if we come back, the question is when!” So who knows, maybe this year, or next year, we will be back at the most wonderful place in the world.

I wrote a poem for Pete and Deena, and with that poem I will end this text about Island Dolphin Care, I tried to describe my feelings about what happened in that two weeks.


Island Dolphin Care, the place where wishes come true.
The place who is welcome to everybody who is new.
It’s a place where dolphins and humans live side by side,
You can see everybody going in to the water smiling bright.
This is the place where magic happens, it’s just beautiful to see.
A place that is very special for every child with special needs.
Island Dolphin Care, it’s feeling like a home,
Nobody here has to feel alone.
The dolphins will comfort you when you’re feeling sad,
They will stand by you trough the good and the bad.

Island Dolphin Care, you are a huge success! Because this is the place where magic is happening to us!

One Response to “A Very Special Letter Written to IDC”

  1. oliwia chyzynska says:

    The letter could have been written by any family as this is how we all feel visiting idc the warmth you feel walking in its like coming home from being on a long trip and being met by our family , such a special place forever in our hearts

    Love and miss you all

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