Ashton Bridges was recovering from a bone marrow transplant when he saw Dinosaurs Alive! on a Carowinds TV commercial. "Can we go see them?" he asked his mom. But a compromised immune system made it impossible to bring Ashton to a crowded amusement park. That wasn't going to stop Ashton's grandmother Becky Strain, who Ashton calls "Nana B." By the time I attempted to coordinate with admissions and park services we discovered that Strain had left voicemails for all three departments. "I don't give up easily when it comes to my grandchildren," she explained.
Ashton may very well have a special place in Nana B's heart, as he was diagnosed last spring with LIG4 syndrome, an extremely rare condition caused by a DNA mutation. It weakens the immune system, which is what led to Ashton's bone marrow transplant.
Strain had one simple request: please allow Ashton and his family to visit Dinosaurs Alive! when there weren't any other guests there. So early one August morning, we met Ashton and his family at the front gate and took them by golf cart to the southern side of the park. And Ashton got to see the dinosaurs.
At home, Ashton loves to play with dinosaur toys and Legos, jump on the trampoline and "torture his little brother Liam," said his mom, Wendy Bridges.
Ashton and his dad, Shannon Bridges, with one of the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibits. "This dinosaur is scary," Ashton said. Which one was the scariest? "Cranosaurus!" he said without hesitation.
After walking through Dinosaurs Alive! Ashton and his family got to meet the PEANUTS gang and get a bird's-eye view of the park from the Carolina Skytower, which had been thoroughly cleaned with antiseptic wipes first. "We're very hopeful that Ashton will be able to do more things like this soon," Wendy said. "His new bone marrow has started working and it's almost in the normal range. He wants to go back to school, be with his friends and explore just like any 7-year old would."
Wendy started a Facebook page, Ashton's Adventure, to keep family and friends updated on his progress, which includes fairly regular hospital visits. "This is definitely a highlight for him. I know he'll be talking about dinosaurs all the way home."