Dreams do come true

Boy with titanium ribs makes Hollywood movie

by Kristin Baker | Photography by Michelle Adams

Clay Beabout and Charger

Clay Beabout and Charger

When the Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted Clay Beabout to grant him a wish three years ago, he had no idea just how much the wish would change his life.

Beabout, a 14-year-old Andover Middle School eighth grader, was born missing several of his ribs and both of his kidneys. The complications that ensued have consumed the lives of Clay and all five members of his immediate family. Since birth, Beabout has undergone almost 40 surgeries, and he lives in constant pain.

So when it comes to children deserving of a Wish, it is easy to see how Beabout made the cut. What makes Beabout's wish so outstanding is it culminated in a project that has spanned three years of his life thus far and not only helped him define his career goals but also introduced him to many of Hollywood's elite: Beabout helped to write and act in his own full-length feature film with the help of the Make A Film Foundation.

Make-A-Wish referred the Beabouts to Make A Film Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that teams film industry professionals with children who have been diagnosed with a serious or life-threatening medical condition to help them tell their stories.

My Make-a-Wish to start out with was to be on the Drake & Josh TV show, but the show stopped filming, Beabout said. So then I decided I wanted to be famous, and I was thinking about if I were to star in a movie.

And he did just that. Beabout's film, Deep Blue, premiers in Hollywood April 30. Well-known actors such as Sean Astin, Ernie Hudson and Natasha Wagner star with Beabout in the film which is part animation and part live action about a dream Beabout has when under anesthesia during one of his many surgeries. The movie will premier in Wichita in June.

Deep Blue not only will entertain movie watchers, but it will give them a glimpse into Beabout's life. During the film, Beabout dreams about fighting Lord Vater, named after the syndrome he has battled his entire life.

Beabout may have only just entered his teen years, but he has experienced more hospital stays than most people could fathom. Beabout has a condition known as Vater Syndrome; the initials in the word vater stand for Vertebrae, Anus, Trachea, Esophagus and Renal disfunction. Patients diagnosed with Vater do not necessarily have complications in all of the listed areas, but they do have problems in several. Beabout's version of Vater also included heart complications, and he had his first open-heart surgery at three months old.

Beabout's father, Scott, spends a great deal of time working at Boeing to support his family of six, so much of the responsibility of caring for Clay when he needs medical attention falls on the shoulders of his mother, Amy.

Scott and Amy's oldest son, Wes, 16, was born with a Type 3 Laryngeal Cleft, which is a birth abnormality that allows food and fluid to enter the airway when a person eats or drinks. Because of this, Amy had experience with watching a child undergo surgery when Clay was born. But it never gets easier, Amy said.

Wes's condition and Clay's condition are completely unrelated, so at five months pregnant when Amy and Scott learned Clay was missing ribs, they were surprised. Lightning struck twice, Amy said.

When Clay was 5 years old, the Beabouts traveled to a children's hospital in San Antonio, Texas, where Clay received surgically implanted titanium ribs. Beabouts ribs must be enlarged every six months as Clay grows. The ribs allow Clay to have improved respiratory function and growth.

Wrapping gifts for other kids who had spinal surgery.

Wrapping gifts for other kids who had spinal surgery.

Preparing for and experiencing surgery has become a way of life for the entire Beabout family, which also includes Sam, 13, and Emma, 9. Amy said their experiences have taught them not to be afraid to ask for help. If your daughter had surgery, your whole church would rally around you and be there, but by the 30th surgery there's not anything left, Amy said. A family becomes all very different.

Despite all of the complications Clay has battled, neurologically he is a normal middle school boy. He fights with his sister. He spars with his mother. He has a witty sense of humor. He even conspired to include a dog in the plot of his movie just so his parents would allow him to keep it after filming and it worked. He loves to play with his scruffy, black dog, Charger.

And through all of Clay's surgeries, he has become a survivor. When I say he's got nine lives, he has beaten all the odds, Amy said.

Because of Clay's condition, he has been restricted from playing sports or doing some other types of physical activity. The movie he helped create was a chance for him to do something special. I was told yes, I can, Clay said.

Amy said the Deep Blue experience was the best wish Clay could have been given. As part of the experience, Clay was able to use his creative skills in writing and acting, and he also had the opportunity to meet and work with some of Hollywood's finest. He was mentored by actor Elijah Wood, directors Valerie Faris and Jonathon Dayton of Little Miss Sunshine fame, director Gil Kenan, acting coach Marshall McCabe and screenwriter David Paterson, who wrote the screenplay for Bridge to Terabithia.

In addition, cast members who also were acclaimed actors and actresses embraced Clay, and he keeps in contact with many of them. One of his favorites was Sean Astin, who is most known for playing Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and who played his father in the movie. What I liked about Sean Astin was he wanted me to know what the movie-making experience was, Clay said. He mentored me and taught me some things.

As part of his time in Los Angeles, Clay visited Pixar Animation Studios and was even offered a scholarship to Pixar University, where people are trained to work for Pixar. Although Pixar did not do the animation for Deep Blue, this was one of Clay's favorite parts of his experience.

The Beabouts are excited to show their movie to the world. The whole thing has been wild, Amy said.

Clay said that partly as a result of the experience, he would like his future career to focus on film-making, although he does not know whether he wants to be in front of or behind the camera. (I loved) the whole experience of getting to do everything I was able to do and learn about the field in which I hope to be doing for the rest of my life, Clay said.

Titanium Rib Foundation

A portion of the proceeds from sales of Deep Blue DVDs and books and movie premier tickets will go toward the Titanium Rib Foundation, which Amy Beabout created five years ago. The foundation benefits families who receive VEPTR implants, or titanium ribs. Families often suffer emotional and financial damage when a child undergoes multiple surgical procedures, and the foundation helps these families. To donate, visit: www.titaniumribfoundation.org or purchase a tooth fairy pillow from AmyLou Designs, Inc., and a portion of the profit will go toward the Titanium Rib Foundation.

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