Coming through on a young cancer survivor's wish

jsowell@idahostatesman.comJune 7, 2014 

Eight-year-old Brody Copat bolted out of his seat in the front row at the Egyptian Theatre and ran to the stage after seeing a costumed character named Angus remove his long gray hair and beard.

Brody, who for two years has battled brain cancer, was unaware that Angus the Viking, who minutes before had presented him with a robot dragon as part of a Make-A-Wish gift, was actually inventor Caleb Chung, the dragon’s creator.

The boy embraced Chung and thanked him for making his dream come true.

The dragon, which opened its eyes, moved its head and opened its wings, was based on ones found in the 2010 film “How to Train Your Dragon,” a movie that became Brody’s favorite during two years of surgeries and treatment for his cancer.

“I must have watched it 1,000 times,” the youngster said.

Many children suffering from serious medical conditions that are often fatal will ask for a trip to Hawaii or Florida or Disney World as their wish, but Brody asked for something that almost seemed impossible.

Not for Chung. The inventor, who has lived in Boise for several years after working in Los Angeles, created the Furby, a robotic toy that resembles a hamster or owl. He also created Pleo — short for Personal Life Enhancing Organism — a robotic dinosaur.

Chung met with Brody a few months ago and admired that he dreamed big.

“It’s a cliche that we tell people to dream big. But that’s what he did,” Chung said. “For an inventor, this is the best of the best.”

Chung knew he could take Pleo’s artificial intelligence and use it as a base for creating movements and mannerisms for the dragon.

DreamWorks Animation, which was behind Brody’s favorite movie, worked with Chung to design the dragon and make it look as though it came from the movie.

Jeff Hare, the vice president of publicity for DreamWorks, attended Saturday’s program. It was the 11th time he’s been involved with a Make-A-Wish dream.

“Every time it feels overwhelming. It really makes for a great day,” Hare said.

More than 300 people attended, including 7-year-old Roman Copat and Eagle Elementary School of Arts classmates of Brody’s.

The group also included members of the Copat family’s church and other friends.

Hare arranged for them to watch the United States premiere of “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” The film isn’t scheduled to open until Friday, but DreamWorks executives felt pairing it with Brody’s wish would make the day extra special for the youngster and his friends.

Len Levitt, Chung’s design manager, said they started drawing up plans for the dragon in November and spoke to DreamWorks officials the following month. A local engineering team that Chung praised for its expertise — received during training at Boise State University — spent several months working on the project.

“It turned out looking better than we thought,” said Levitt, who spent 30 years working on films and television shows. During a break before the movie started, Brody clutched the dragon and then allowed some of the other children in the audience to pet it while Chung held it.

“I like it,” said Brody, who said it turned out even better than he imagined.

The presentation was extra special for the group of people who work at Make-A-Wish Idaho. When families take trips, the local staffers don’t get to see the end results of their work. On Saturday, CEO Torene Bonner, her staff and others who had helped with the project got to see Brody receive his dragon.

“You can’t create this kind of magic without some amazing help,” Bonner said.

Doctors diagnosed cancer in Brody on Feb. 8, 2012. Less than 24 hours later, he underwent surgery at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, Wash. At the time, the Copats were residing in Lacey, Wash., east of Olympia.

Later, Brody underwent two months of treatment at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He is now cancer-free but faces five years of recovery.

His parents, Kim and Claudio, said they’re grateful for the dedication of the Make-A-Wish folks in Boise and in Washington state, where the process began.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by how much attention and love they’ve shown us,” Kim Copat said.

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