PROVO — For most people it's a simple game of family hoops on the driveway, but there is nothing simple about the challenges 12-year-old Marius faces with each attempt at the basket.
Born in Romania, he was a boy with a beautiful smile. That is until November 2007 when a boiler in his home exploded. Marius jumped out a window but suffered third- and fourth-degree burns over 75 percent of his body, losing his eyelids and nose. Doctors amputated all ten fingers because of an infection. His parents did not survive the explosion.
BYU students Jessica Free and Ashley Ludlow met Marius while volunteering at a hospital during a semester abroad. Both young women were shocked when they first saw him, but they then knew they had to help.
“They came to the hospital to visit and they played, and we had a lot of fun.” Marius remembers. "Then they talked with their parents and see if I could come to America so I could get surgeries."
“Jess sent pictures home on the Internet,” said Kristin Free, her mother. “And she was just talking through Skype with me on these various pictures of these little orphans. And she got to Marius, and I was just a mess. I was just crying, 'Jess, tell me what happened,' and as she began to tell me that his parents had been killed and the story unfolded, I was so emotionally moved, and I just asked her, 'what can we do?" and she said, 'Now that you ask.'"
Eight months later, doctors at Shriner's Hospital in Los Angeles began their work. They will treat Marius until he is 18. Ashley's parents, Paul and Lynne Woodward, went forward with an adoption. Ashley married Marius’ brother. Marius lived first with Jessica's family. He calls Dave and Kristin Free mom and dad, as well. They still care for him following surgeries, and he visits during summers and school breaks.
Marius first received new eyelids, a new nose and then fingers that were his toes.
“I'm in fifth grade. At school I like math and science. I do karate, and I play a trombone and I'm going to go in basketball.” Marius describes his now-fairly typical American life.
Now a BYU filmmaker hopes many more people will know Marius' story.
"I Am Not My Body" tells of Marius, his families, his love of sports and music. But it's about much more.
Mark Williams, a BYU broadcast communications student is the filmmaker. ”What drew him to me so much is the power of his spirit. It's so easy to be discouraged and you look at somebody like Marius who has had so many terrible things happen to him and he's happy. As I got to know him more and the families who have helped him so much, since he's been here in America and even before, it's so clear that he made a decision to be happy. And it's a lesson we all can learn."
Marius is still undergoing treatments. “Now I'm doing laser surgery. I have like 5 more because they took the skin from here,” he said as he pointed to the back of his head. “So now my nose grows hair, so, they need to take the laser to remove the hair and they want to see if they can remove scar tissue.”
“I think we're all just so privileged to know Marius, the resilience is amazing," Kristin Free said.
Marius hopes to become a motivational speaker.
"Sometimes when I go to bed, I think sometimes 'why was I alive?' It's like, 'Well, maybe I have something to do here.'”
No one who knows Marius doubts that he will.
The film "I Am Not My Body" premiers Tuesday night at 7:00 in the Joseph Smith Building Auditorium at BYU. Tickets are free, but donations are welcome.