Lake Norman & Mooresville

Rallying ’round Braylon, 6, of Denver as he fights for his sight

Meredith, Braylon and Jesse Beam
Meredith, Braylon and Jesse Beam COURTESY OF JENNIFER MACALUSO

When 6-year-old Braylon Beam’s kindergarten teacher in Denver noticed in February that he was having difficulty seeing the board, she suggested to his parents they have his vision tested.

The exam resulted in a diagnosis of pilocytic astrocytoma, a complication of a condition called Neurofibromatosis, Type 1. Doctors determined that Braylon had a tumor growing on his optic nerve, resulting in blindness in his right eye.

Complicating matters, the tumor was found to be malignant.

Braylon’s treatment now involves chemotherapy, with the goal of shrinking the tumor and preserving his remaining vision.

During the chemo sessions at Blume Pediatric Hematology and Oncology in Charlotte the nurses dress in Panthers gear, a nod to Braylon’s passion for all-things Panthers.

“The highlight of our visit,” said Braylon’s mom, Meredith, “is when his dad and the staff join us in our weekly dance videos that we take during the treatment.”

“You never think in a million years that something like this is going to happen to your little one,” said Meredith, “but we have moved from being heartbroken, though it never really goes away, to saying, ‘We can do this.’”

Disney World and the Panthers

Braylon has two big adventures coming up.

The staff at Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte, where Meredith is a registered nurse, have chipped in to send Braylon and his family to Disney World for a week in May.

Asked about his Disney World plans, he quickly replies, “I want to slay Darth Vader with my light saber. ... And I’m going to bring my autograph book so I can get Mickey Mouse’s autograph.”

And the Make-a-Wish Foundation granted his request to serve as head coach of the Carolina Panthers for a day. That will happen during a summer training camp session.

Why does he want to be a Panthers coach for a day? “They play well and I like their colors. And besides, I’ll get to boss them around. I’ll make them do a hundred push-ups,” Braylon said, adding, “I think Cam Newton can do that, but I’m not so sure about the other guys on the team.”

“We really want Braylon to experience all that life has to offer and be a kid,” his mother said. “He is such a rambunctious, witty and caring child, but more than anything, he is the bravest 6-year-old I have ever encountered.”

Bring It 4 Braylon

Meg Carpenter, Braylon’s teacher at Rock Springs Elementary, echoed that sentiment.

“Braylon is the most loving, big-hearted child,” she said. “He is an old soul in a little body, like a little adult. He thinks about others before he thinks about himself, and he has the best attitude, happy all the time.”

Braylon’s favorite subjects at school are physical education and art. And after he showed up with his head shaved, three others in his class had their heads shaved in a show of support.

Braylon’s dad, Jesse, a PE teacher and morning bus driver at Rock Springs Elementary, said Braylon has received autographed football cards as well as a football signed by Cam Newton from well-wishers.

“The support we have received from the school staff and the town of Denver has been overwhelming,” said Jesse. “It’s made our journey a lot easier. Meredith and I can’t even imagine having to do this alone.”

A portion of the proceeds from the recent Fish Fry at Webbs Chapel United Methodist Church in Denver will be donated to Braylon’s medical fund.

Another important element of that support network, designed to help with the family’s medical bills, is a Zumbathon fundraiser, Bring It 4 Braylon, organized by Jennifer Macaluso and Peggy Reed.

“The minute we learned about Baylon’s diagnosis, we knew we could help the family with financial and emotional support,” said Reed.

Macaluso, a Zumba instructor at Denver Health & Fitness, has organized fundraisers for a number of causes in the past few years. Reed, also a Zumba instructor, is a substitute teacher at Rock Springs Elementary and covers Jesse’s classes when he takes Braylon to chemo and other appointments.

The 90-minute event will take place at 6 p.m. May 15 at the Rock Springs Elementary gymnasium.

The goal is to raise at least $10,000. Participants are asked to wear Panthers gear, and suggested donations are $20. A dozen gift baskets, donated by local businesses and valued at $500 or more each, will be raffled off, with tickets costing $1.

Braylon will be at the Zumbathon, decked out in his Panther regalia. But be prepared, said Reed. “Everyone who meets Braylon falls instantly in love. His wit and charm exceed his six years, and his enthusiasm for life is inspiring.”

Bruce Dunbridge is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Bruce? Contact him at brucedunbridge@yahoo.com.

Learn more:

For information about Bring It 4 Braylon, contact Peggy Reed at missp0622@yahoo.com or Jennifer Macaluso at jennifermacaluso@charter.net. Arrangements for free childcare can be made through Causby Karate Academy at 704-898-7637.

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