VATER Syndrome

Medical Miracle
While 15-year-old Clay Beabout was still in utero, he was diagnosed with a variety of developmental abnormalities. He was born missing five ribs on his right side, which caused spinal scoliosis. In addition, he was born with a malformation of his heart, and without a kidney on his left side.

Known as VATER syndrome (Vertebrae, Anus, Trachea, Esophageal, Renal), a child with one of these birth defects may not necessarily have a deficiency in every area. However, roughly 70 percent of children born with VATER syndrome will have vertebral anomalies, and may undergo as many as 100 surgeries throughout their life.

Since Clay was four months old, he has endured more than 40 surgeries. In what was perhaps the most major surgery of his life, surgeons implemented titanium ribs to correct the curvature of his spine, which stabilized his core and prevented it from collapsing. Without the support of the artificial ribcage, Clay would lose his ability to breathe. The VEPTR procedure (Vertical Expandable Prosthetic Titanium Rib) allows surgeons to expand the rib cage every six months, until the child outgrows the device and a larger one is installed.

To raise awareness and funds, Clay’s mother, Amy, founded the Titanium Rib Foundation, which serves all children coming to the Spinal and Thoracic Treatment and Research Center in San Antonio, Texas for the life-saving surgery. The Titanium Rib Foundation has assisted over 500 families of children who suffer from spinal distortion associated with VATER syndrome.

Watch surgeons remove Clay’s titanium rib prosthesis and straighten his spine.

Clay, Amy and orthopedic spinal surgeon, Dr. James W. Simmons, join The Doctors to discuss Clay's operation and how he is doing now.

Watch a clip from Clay’s festival-winning short film, Deep Blue Breath, co-starring actor Sean Astin.

• Learn more about Deep Blue Breath and the mission of the Make a Film Foundation.