NICEVILLE, Florida -- Tyler Nekomoto, of Niceville, Florida was shocked when the Mansfield-based Visual Bucket List Foundation offered his family a trip to South Dakota later this summer for his 9-year-old son with Usher’s Syndrome.
The trip figures to offer Nekomoto's son, Tyson, the experience of a dinosaur dig.
The boy, Tyson Nekomoto, who loves dinosaurs and dreams of being a paleontologist one day, has a rare genetic condition that will likely cause him to lose his vision and hearing as he matures. It's the same affliction that affects the founders of the Visual Bucket List’s daughter.
Tyler Nekomoto and his wife, Mina, met Mansfield’s Steve and Christine Myers a few years ago at an Usher’s Syndrome Conference. Tyler Nekomoto recalls interacting with several organizations raising money for the cure, but the most memorable people he met there were the Myers, who he explained were trying to improve the lives of people with Usher’s Syndrome presently.
“We were in the shock and information gathering part of Tyson’s condition, and when we met them and they said they had just formed this foundation and were doing stuff for people with visual impairments, I thought was a really honorable thing,” Tyler Nekomoto said. “There’s lots of money being raised for research, but not a lot of people are trying to give the people that are diagnosed now a better life.”
The Mansfield nonprofit raises money to provide trips or “wish list experiences” for children with declining vision. So far, the organization has sent a Shelby family to Disney World, offered free plane rides around Mansfield and given away several pairs of e-sight glasses. The notion is to offer visual memories that will last a lifetime -- a concept dreamed up after a Turkish Airline offered the Myers family a free round-trip visit to Rome so that their oldest of two daughters, Lizzy, could see a new portion of the world.
“While maybe we could have afforded the trip, we probably wouldn’t have done it,” Steve Myers said.
Upon returning, they were determined to offer similar experiences for families with children like Lizzy. The Visual Bucket List Foundation was formed and got off to a slow, but steady start.
After the significance of the Visual Bucket List’s gift sank in for the Nekomotos, they too were set on making a difference in someone else’s life. They asked the Myers if they knew of any children interested in aviation, as Tyler had a connection with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
Sure enough, the Myers knew just the person, Connor Wills, of Berlin Center, who was born with Optic Nerve Atrophy, a disease affecting the central and peripheral vision, visual clarity and his ability to see in dim lighting conditions.
The Visual Bucket List will send Wills and his family to Florida to visit the Blue Angels also this summer thanks to the Nekomoto’s connection.
“We wanted to help pay it forward,” Tyler Nekomoto said.
As of now, his son Tyson knows they’ll be stopping in South Dakota later this summer as part of a larger road trip, but he doesn’t know about the dinosaur dig.
“Tyson's passion for dinosaurs extends past the normal passion for 9-year-old. He's never transitioned off of dinosaurs to superheroes or anything. It's actually grown instead of falling off, so we were absolutely thrilled to be selected for something like this,” Tyler said. “So while he knows that we are to South Dakota, but he doesn't know about going on a paleontology dig. And I'd like to keep it a secret.”