Introducing our disabled daughter to dolphins was a moment to remember.
Three years ago we started researching the possibility of our daughter, Nura, participating in a dolphin therapy programme. Earlier this year our dream became a reality when we flew 12 000 miles to Turkey. We had researched various programmes in the States, Israel, Mozambique and in Turkey.
Eventually we narrowed the possibilities down and applied to two programmes – one in Florida (the JF2 Project), USA and the other at the Dolphin Academy and Research Centre in Marmaris, Turkey.
It was not automatic that she would be accepted. The applications to both programmes included rigorous medical scrutiny – her birth history and reports from all therapists. Nura also had to undergo an EEG (electroencephalogram – recording of the electrical activity of the brain) as the previous recordings were deemed outdated.
After being accepted on both programmes we chose Turkey. Of course my husband kept asking if I was sure the dolphins were real and was I certain they actually had dolphins.
Meeting the dolphins
Our first encounter with Daisy, Frozia and Splash was unreal. I have no words to describe what it was like to see the dolphins so close. My throat closed and there were tears in my eyes as we walked Nura onto the floating platform that housed the base of the Dolphin Academy and Research Centre.
The dolphins were playful and came to the side of the platform, almost it seemed out of curiosity to see the newcomers. They talked and Nura responded. She smiled and babbled and we got through our first surreal experience.
The dolphin therapist asked a very pertinent question, ‘What do you hope to achieve with the dolphin therapy?’ We had been asked this before, in our application to the programme in Florida, when we had been asked to set goals for Nura.
As this is not realistically possible our answer was simple – ‘we expect nothing, we are doing this for her, for us as a family and if we only even get one smile it will be enough.’
And of course we got so much more from Nura – she smiled and laughed and sang with Daisy (the dolphin assigned to her for the duration of her therapy). Nura enjoyed most days in the water (in the Mediterranean Sea during April and May – not the warmest water!). She allowed the therapist to do all the exercises with her and participated fully.
She did have on two wetsuits and occasionally moaned quite loudly when she’d had enough. But the smiles and the shrieks of laughter were as precious as anything you can imagine.
Nura danced with Daisy, played piano on Daisy, fed Daisy smelly pieces of fish, touched Daisy’s tongue and teeth, rubbed her feet on Daisy’s belly as she swam by and swam holding onto Daisy’s dorsal fin. Our angel, Nura, was one with an angel of the sea.
Of course we had an opportunity to swim with Daisy too. One has to be in total awe of this creature. Daisy felt soft, yet firm. She felt supple yet so strong. I constantly felt the urge to hug her. Her eyes were so gentle and so caring. But one is reminded of her strength when you hold onto her dorsal fin and feel the strength of her tail fin as she pulls you in to the platform.
Our dream became a reality and our swim with two angels will forever be etched in our hearts.
Dolphin assisted therapy – fab or fad?
Do you believe dolphin therapy has value for disabled children?