Including me: film celebrates Saint John man's triumph

Ben George’s family was told he’d never talk or go to school. Now, the UNB student is the subject of a new documentary by Hemmings House Pictures.

Goal of short film is to 'encourage other families to keep going,' says Saint John dad Mike George

The family of Ben George was told their son, now 24, would never talk or go to school. Now, he's a student at UNB and the subject of a short documentary about inclusion. (Submitted by Hemmings House Pictures)

A new short documentary, Including Me: Ben's Story, is celebrating how schools and families can support people with disabilities.

Shortly after Ben's birth, doctors sat down with Mike and Jan George and shared some devastating news.

The Saint John couple's baby had been born with a virus called CMV, or cytomegalovirus.

The virus — which affects more than half of adults by age 40 and frequently has no symptoms — had attacked their child's neurological system and caused multiple disabilities.

Ben George, centre, with father Mike, sister Tori and mom Jan George. (Submitted by Hemmings House Pictures)

"We were shocked and devastated," said father of three Mike George. "We were given this laundry list of problems with no path to resolve any of them. We were lost."

But the Georges determined that they were going to unconditionally support their son and help him live as rich a life as possible.

"We treated him in the same way we would his siblings and assumed that he understood everything we said to him," Mike George said. "We tried to give him all the same opportunities as his siblings and any other children his age."

Watch the trailer:

From poor prognosis, to post secondary

That's not to say that there were no challenges in bringing into the fold a child that used a wheelchair, was nonverbal and had a host of other complex health problems.

"We always said that Ben is probably the most patient person in the world," George said.

Until he received an electronic "talker," an assistive technology that finally gave him a voice at age 19, "he had no formal communication system," Mike George said. "We had a low-tech communication system that we tried to use to help him make choices, but that didn't allow him to use expressive language."

Teachers and family have helped Ben George lead a full life and get an education, despite complex disabilities. (Submitted by Hemmings House Pictures)

When Ben was able to speak, "it validated everything we thought was true about his wit, sarcasm, and personality, his father said. "Now, he figures out what's on his mind and tells you exactly what he's thinking."

When he attended high school at St. Malachy's, "Ben was the first student they ever had in a wheelchair," George said. "They were somewhat unsure of where to start, but they were willing and open to do whatever they could and help us move forward."

With the help of teachers, and his family, Ben, now 24, was able to graduate from St. Malachy's in 2013 and enrol in a Certificate in General Studies program at UNB.

'It can be done'

Ben's journey is now the subject of a short documentary called Including Me: Ben's Story by Hemmings House Pictures.

"I'm inspired by this family," said director Jennifer Power Scott. "Seeing how they went from being devastated to what they have today is amazing."

Lauchlan Ough, who shot the film, called the project "inspiring."

"It's narrated by his dad, and it follows his life story and culminates with his going to university," Ough said. "It was amazing figuring out what the story is, then to be a fly on the wall and capture those moments that define it."

Ben George, 24, is enrolled in the Certificate in General Studies program at UNB. (Submitted by Hemmings House Pictures)

The film was created in partnership with Community Living Fundy Region, which promotes inclusive communities, "where everyone can live, work and play equally," said George, the board's vice chair.

"We were looking for projects to heighten the awareness of persons with disabilities and also inspire people to keep going — and Ben's story is remarkable," he said.

The film "lays it all out there," George said — from the challenges Ben and his family continue to face, to the victories they experience every day.

"Sometimes when you first start out, you don't see how things are going to unfold."

"There's a broader message than anyone can benefit from," said Power Scott. "No matter what challenges you're facing in life, you've got to go out there and do what you can with what you have."

The Community Living Board Fundy Region will premiere Including Me, Ben's Story on Wednesday, March 29, at St. Malachy's Memorial High School at 7 p.m. The event is free and will include refreshments and a Q&A.