There’s only one word that British dad Marc Carter can use to describe the global search to replace his son’s special sippy cup: “gobsmacking.”
The dad of three from Devon, England, sparked a worldwide hunt for the light blue Tommee Tippee cup in November, when he became aware that the cup being used by his 14-year-old son, Ben — who has autism — was close to falling apart.
Speaking to PEOPLE at the time, Carter, 42, explained that Ben “would rather die” than drink from another cup and, in desperation, posted a social media call in the hope that one might be gathering dust at the back of someone’s kitchen cupboard.
Thanks to the power of social media, however, Carter now has around 100 cups and has been guaranteed a lifetime supply from Tommee Tippee, who went to extraordinary lengths to help him with a product that had long since been discontinued.
“They sent a team off to one of their factories to look for a mold and eventually found the correct one after a couple of days searching through the warehouse,” Carter tells PEOPLE.
“They had to check they were food safe and chemically tested them to make sure they could be used. Then they e-mailed me to say, ‘Are you free to talk?’
“We had a bit of a chat then they suddenly said, ‘We’d like to make you 1,000.’ I nearly fell over!”
Tommy Tippee is now going to send Carter a batch of cups whenever Ben needs them. They’ve also placed the highly sought-after mold in a secure place should their stocks ever run dangerously low again.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it? adds Carter. “I can’t believe they have done it. I’ve had a few tears over it. I’m just a guy living in Devon with my family. I don’t ask for anything. I just try to lead a good life and help people.
“I just wanted a cup for my son. I would have been happy if I’d found one. Now I’ve got 100!”
With the cup problem safely put to one side, Carter is now tackling the equally tricky problem of convincing Ben to drink from the new cups by gradually transitioning him from his old, worn-out sippy cup – something that is far more difficult than it sounds.
“When we get to the new ones, we will chuck them in the bin every 2-3 months when they start to wear, so that he always has a new one,” explains Carter.
“I tried to swap the base around and it went wrong and he didn’t drink for 24 hours. It was a worrying 24 hours. Then the next evening he slowly started accepting it.”
In response to the global reaction to his social media post – which has seen him make the national news in China, Canada and South Africa – Carter has now set up a YouTube account to help spread awareness of autism and help other families in a similar position.
He’s also struck up a number of amazing friendships with different people across the globe, including a U.S. Army veteran who’s struggling to cope with his own son’s autism.
“He’s become a buddy online,” says Carter – who wishes to keep the identity of the Army vet a secret. “He has a blind son who [has autism]. He’s now holding down whatever job he can but is struggling to pay the bills because his son has so many issues. He sent me a message with tears streaming down his face.
“He’s struggling to provide for his family.”
Together with a group of American fathers from the online forum The Dad Network, Carter is now going to organize some Christmas presents for the Army vet and his family to ensure they have “a great Christmas.”
“All his son wants to do is tap a spoon on his head and feel the vibration,” says Carter. “But you can’t buy him a spoon! So I have got an occupational therapist looking for some toys for visually impaired children with autism that he might be able to use.”
At the same time, Carter has also had what he describes as an “incredible gift” from Blacksburg, VA-based IT consultant Zack Lytle, to help him continue his campaign using an unlimited server on Amazon – completely free of charge.
“He just said ‘I will pick up the bill for eternity,” Carter adds. “‘There will never be a bill’
“So his company in the U.S. is going to build my website, manage my website and look after all the search engine optimization and promotion. I also have all the admin passwords, so I can take control of it any time I want. I just said to him, ‘Look, I’m not going to mess around, I’m just going to say thank you very much!’ ”
Now, with Christmas around the corner and his garage filled with light blue sippy cups, Carter is able to sit back and reflect on a turn of events that’s turned 2016 into one of the best years he’s ever known.
“It’s fab. It’s better than winning the lottery,” he adds. “It’s nice to know that there’s just one more thing we don’t have to worry about.
“The power of social media is incredible, but what’s really lovely for me is the knock-on effect that I am helping other people. The little tiny blue cup is actually becoming quite an item around the world. It just feels weird but it’s pretty cool.
“The best thing is that Ben is completely oblivious to it too. He hasn’t got a clue!”