These students are making sure that everyone can enjoy a little Halloween magic – no matter their disabilities.
16-year-old Alex Hayes has trouble dressing up for the spooky holiday because she uses a wheelchair due to her rare chromosomal mutation: GRIN2B.
As a means of including Alex in on the fun, a team of students and alumni from the Virginia Commonwealth University Schools of Medicine and Dentistry spent eight weeks and 200 hours of work building a costume for Alex.
The students first met Alex back in August. After chatting with her and her family, they discovered that Alex had an affinity for farm animals. So, the team set up shop in a rental storage unit and started building a barn costume that could fit on top of the youngster’s wheelchair.
Measuring in at 7 feet tall and 5 feet wide, the finished foam costume featured everything from hay bales, to a decorated sign reading “Alex’s Barn”.
When the costume was finished, Alex made her big debut during a costume party this weekend. All of her friends and family – even the dog – were dressed as farm animals in celebration of the teen’s costume. Her grandfather, who was dressed as Old McDonald, pushed her wheelchair out to the spectators and “her eyes lit up” with joy.
This is not the first time that the VCU students have made a special costume for a differently-abled child – the team works in partnership with Magic Wheelchairs: a nonprofit that builds Halloween costumes for children in wheelchairs.
Ryan Weimer, the founder of Magic Wheelchairs, first got the idea for the nonprofit after he built a pirate costume for his son with muscular dystrophy in 2008. The costume was featured on so many social media channels and news outlets, that other parents started reaching out to Weimer asking for help building their own wheelchair costumes.
Weimer’s brother Travis, who is a student at the VCU School of Dentistry, worked with Ryan on Alex’s barn creation, as well as a turtle costume they built for a girl named Chloe last year.
“This is becoming a tradition that I hope VCU will continue,” said one of the students. “Because little girls like Chloey and Alex will never forget the impact that Magic Wheelchair and the volunteers made when they dressed up as their favorite things and had the time of their lives.”