When a Disney character made a beeline for his sick daughter, one father was over the moon. He couldn’t believe that this special moment had become a reality. But then he spotted a man lurking in the background.
Glenn O’Neill and his family live in Columbia, South Carolina. However, in 2017 the family were on vacation at Walt Disney World in Florida, and it was to be the holiday of a lifetime for all kinds of reasons.
The break provided a well-earned escape from normality for all the family, none more so than little Eliza. O’Neill’s seven-year-old daughter has Sanfilippo syndrome – a terminal condition – and, as such, it is important to make special memories.
According to O’Neill, Sanfilippo syndrome is akin to a “childhood Alzheimer’s.” Consequently, it causes serious, dementia-like symptoms in sufferers, often by the time they are just five years old. Moreover, there is no treatment for the condition.
Sadly, this means that one day Sanfilippo will claim little Eliza’s life. Usually, people with the syndrome survive to become teenagers. Some can live longer, but those with a more severe type of the disorder may, in fact, die earlier.
It is, then, important for Eliza’s family to enjoy every moment they can with her – hence their trip to Walt Disney World. They visited with another little girl called Keira, who also had Sanfilippo syndrome, and the group threw themselves into exploring the park’s many attractions.
On their second day at the resort, O’Neill and Eliza visited Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The tour had proved tiring for all the family, so part way through the day they chose to take a rest. It was then that Eliza spotted one of her favorite characters, Doc McStuffins.
The star Disney character was standing in a small area where fans could come and take a snap with her. However, there was a long queue of children waiting to meet her. So, O’Neill decided against joining the hoards. Instead, he moved Eliza, who was in her specialist chair, closer, so she could at least see her idol.
After that, O’Neill didn’t think about Doc McStuffins too much, and he continued chatting to some other parents. Then, before he knew it, the television character was standing directly in front of him and was holding Eliza’s hand.
“Eliza’s look of wonderment was something I won’t forget,” O’Neill recalled on his Facebook page in April 2017. “And [she] did the same with Keira, who didn’t want to let go of Doc’s hand. Doc spent a good several minutes with both children.”
Furthermore, Doc’s kind actions seemed to spark a trend. Within minutes, Jake, from Disney Junior show Jake and the Never Land Pirates, left his line and came straight over to meet Eliza and Keira, too.
As this was happening, O’Neill wondered to himself what had made the characters come over. But, that’s when the delighted dad noticed something. There, just behind the delighted girls, was a Disney employee who had orchestrated the unforgettable moment.
“We never asked him or acted like we wanted to be in line,” O’Neill explained on Facebook. “He did this on his own. Just seeing these two girls in their chairs, and he knew what it would mean to them… and to us.”
“I remember naturally glancing over the long line of people waiting, who now would have to wait longer, and feeling a bit guilty and worried about the looks,” he added. “But do you know what I saw? I saw only smiles – from the parents and from the kids.”
“Some parents [were] whispering to their children,” O’Neill revealed. “Probably explaining, ‘These girls need to see the Doc right now, before we do.’ I don’t think anyone noticed, but I had to drop my head and hide and hold back the tears coming. The emotions were taking over, for the first and only time during our trip.”
O’Neill was able to thank the kind stranger. But, in the spur of the moment, he forgot to ask the gentleman’s name. However, he was desperate to tell Disney just how wonderful its employee was. So, he launched a search for the man on Facebook.
O’Neill encouraged social media users to share the post, and before long, more than 4,000 people had seen his plea. The grateful parent subsequently learned that the man’s name was Roberto Sierra. Furthermore, Sierra worked as Character Captain at Disney World, and O’Neill was able to thank him once more.
Sierra had worked at Disney for 13 years, and according to those who know him, his act of kindness was not out of the ordinary. In fact, he was often doing things for other people out of the kindness of his heart.
But, while many others were keen to sing Sierra’s praises, the man himself remained quite modest. “We as cast members are here to make magic and that’s what we do,” he told Babble in April 2017. “Seeing the joy the characters created is all the thanks I need.”
To O’Neill, the fact that Eliza’s story had touched so many hearts was the most important thing. Sierra’s simple gesture provided him with memories he’ll never forget. As a friend of the family apparently summed up, “It’s such a good reminder that sometimes the smallest acts of kindness can leave the biggest impression.”