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April 14. 2013 9:02PM

Christmas spirit

Windham boy aims to keep on moving, hopes to win wheelchair van


Born with a rare genetic disorder, Brayden Christmas doesn't walk or talk. Despite his challenges, he usually has a smile on his face. (COURTESY)


Brayden Christmas, 6, pictured here with his parents Maurice and Amy and sister Olivia, 3, is a finalist in a national contest where the prize is a new wheelchair van. COURTESY 

WINDHAM - Six-year-old Brayden Christmas loves going to school, being outside, spending time with his friends and family, and going on the occasional shopping trip with his mother, Amy.

But Brayden is different than most little boys his age. Born with a rare, genetic disorder known as L1 syndrome, which causes fluid to accumulate around his brain, vision problems, muscle spasticity and abducted thumbs, the Windham boy copes with many challenges each day.

Unable to speak, Brayden communicates with sounds and facial expressions, and uses a wheelchair to get around due to limited mobility.

Like most 6-year-olds, Brayden is growing fast, which is making it increasingly difficult for parents to bring him to appointments with his physical and occupational therapists, to church or even on simple trips to the store.

"Right now, we're struggling with time," Amy Christmas said. "So we're hoping and we're praying."

For now, the family minivan does the trick, but Brayden keeps growing and is expected to grow much more. His father, Maurice Christmas, a former professional baseball player, is 6 feet 4 inches tall.

"He's about 42 pounds right now, so soon we've got to start thinking of the future," Amy Christmas said. "And the minivan we have has about 150,000 miles on it."

Purchasing a wheelchair van isn't financially possible right now for this family of four, so they're hoping a national contest coinciding with National Mobility Awareness Month in May might prove their best bet. By collecting online votes, the contest, which is being sponsored by such companies as Toyota and Chrysler, will award new wheelchair vans and other specialty equipment to the top-earning candidates. As of Friday evening, Brayden was up to 5,800 votes.

The little boy, who is learning some sign language and is beginning to use an electronic communication device, attends school five days per week. He's a regular fixture at the International Family Church in North Reading, Mass., where Maurice Christmas is a youth pastor.

Brayden has maintained a steady presence at the church, and his parents feel it is important for folks to get to know the smiling boy for the person he is in hopes they'll see past his physical challenges.

There are times when people are unintentionally cruel.

"Sometimes people don't know how to react to someone like Brayden," his mother said. "But by taking him out with us, we're teaching the other kids at our church about people with disabilities and the fact that we all basically want the same things."

While they wait for the contest's conclusion, the family is focusing on their many blessings - the close bond Brayden shares with his sister, Olivia, 3, and the love of a close-knit family.

"Yes, it's hard," said Amy Christmas. "If I have to lift Brayden too many times in one day, I have back issues. But he's such a happy child."

To vote for Brayden, visit www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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