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Salt Lake City’s Shriners Hospitals transforms kids’ wheelchairs, and their Halloween, into something magical

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Three year old Drew Cheever watches as volunteers Shriners Hospitals for Children volunteers Landon DeGarmo, right, and Taylor Cutler, left help transform his wheelchair into a Spiderman-themed chair with webs, ready for Halloween, Wednesday, October 18, 2017.

Millie Killpack and her husband let their 9-year-old son, Davey, trick-or-treat without them for the first time last year.

He can’t get up steps, so neighbors walked down to offer him candy, or his friends asked for extra treats on his behalf.

This year, Millie Killpack plans to let Davey strike out on his own again — and this time using the Millennium Falcon to get around.

The elaborate “Star Wars” costume will be attached to his wheelchair and, she hopes, will make him feel special.

“He’s his own kid. Just like every kid has their own personality, he has his,” Killpack said. “He just lets it shine like every kid does.”

Davey was among 21 kids whose wheelchairs were tricked-out and transformed Wednesday at a costume clinic at the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Salt Lake City.

Volunteers crafted each costume — built around the wheelchair from cardboard, paint and PVC pipe — to the vision of the child and their parents.

Davey “loves Star Wars and wanted to have a Star Wars costume, so they made an awesome Millennium Falcon,” Millie Killpack said.

Others under construction Wednesday: Spider-Man, a taco truck, a “Monsters Inc.” scene and a Superman motif complete with a nighttime skyline.

Shriners volunteers made six total costumes for the first clinic, last year. On Wednesday, they churned out more than 20.

The growth was in response to parents who said having costumes last year helped their children feel more included in trick-or-treating.

“You want them to be kids,” said Matt Lowell, director of Shriner’s wheelchair, seating and mobility program. “You don’t want them watching things. You want them experiencing them and doing it.”

One mother told him that in previous years, her son was always stuck on the sidewalk watching as his friends charged up to the door.

But in his dressed-up wheelchair last year, he became “the center of attention,” Lowell said.

And the process of creating the costumes — which can be removed from the wheelchairs and re-attached Oct. 31 — was its own kind of Halloween magic for Davey Killpack and other kids.

“It’s a great treat for him to be up here,” Millie Killpack said. “They make him feel great, and always give him the VIP treatment.”

Davey has spina bifida and has been a Shriners patient since shortly after birth. He visits for treatment and physical therapy at least every six months — and sometimes in intervals as short as every two weeks, like when he needed surgery and rotation for his clubbed feet.

He can use a cane or a walker to “get by,” Millie said, but the wheelchair provides him the quickest mode of mobility and comfort.

Carrie Holder’s 10-year-old son JJ’s wheelchair will have a “Monsters, Inc.” theme. A door frame — like those used by the movie’s creatures to visit and scare children — is attached to his wheelchair, while JJ will be dressed in a blue-and-purple-polka-dotted Sully costume.

Holder, who helped paint the door frame, noticed her son’s excitement throughout the day.

“He has been really alert today, happy and watching them,” she said. “He turns his head to the side when he sees them working on something.”

JJ was diagnosed with an unknown type of pontocerebellar hypoplasia as a 6-month-old, a genetic disease that affects the development of the brain.

“It’s not always easy for kids like my son to get up and trick-or-treat and go places,” Holder said. “So I think it makes it a magical Halloween for him. It’s really neat and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

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