Family decorates accessible 'Darth Vader' van for boy in wheelchair
Emily Chan, CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, March 19, 2016 10:34AM EDT
A young boy with a fatal muscular disease will be travelling to school in style on Monday, on board his family's new decked-out "Darth Vader" van.
Austin Sweet, nine, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative condition that weakens his muscles dramatically over time.
Approximately 300,000 young boys around the world have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and most won't live beyond their mid-twenties, according to the American non-profit Cure Duchenne foundation.
"(It's) a muscle wasting disease, a progressive muscle disease, which is unfortunately 100 per cent fatal," Austin's father, Bryan Sweet, told CTV Atlantic. "There's no cure."
Just over a year ago, the disease confined the Nova Scotia boy to a wheelchair, and his family found themselves in need of an accessible vehicle.
But Bryan Sweet didn't want just any van with a ramp for his son. He was determined to make the most of the situation.
Inspired by Austin's love of "the dark side," Bryan Sweet decided to modify their new vehicle.
He rigged up a smoke machine, plastered a Darth Vader decal onto the front of the black van, and just like that, the "Imperial Shuttle" was born.
"We're going all out on this idea. We're going to make Austin happy for a day," Bryan Sweet said.
According to his uncle, Austin is an ardent Star Wars fan who particularly admires the masked villain.
"I find him very, very cool because of the moves he can do," Austin explained.
To unveil the family's new van, the boys' parents planned a dramatic reveal, complete with a Darth Vader costume.
Austin's mother drove up to the house in the family's old car and helped the nine-year-old out onto the driveway.
Then, the garage door lifted and a masked Darth Vader figure emerged from a cloud of smoke, carrying a light saber. The black van stood menacingly behind the villain.
As for Austin, he had just one question as he watched the scene unfold.
"Dad, how'd you do that?" he asked.
When the smoke finally cleared, Austin had a chance to test out a new light saber toy and the accessible vehicle.
The family says the van will make it much easier for them to safely get around town, but they're still working to cover the cost of the new transportation.
They've set up a fundraiser online to try and help pay off the $45,000 purchase. So far, they've raised more than $15,000.
"I get emotional talking about this sort of stuff, but it is a big community and to me that's been overwhelming, just the amount of support we've received," Bryan Sweet said.
As the family continues to fundraise, they'll be making good use of the new van.
They plan to use the vehicle to drop Austin off at school on Monday. And after that, they say they'll be able to "explore the far reaches of the galaxy."
With files from CTV Atlantic