Special effects, blogging, modeling: PA Cyber teen takes 'wonder woman' to new heights
Oct 4, 2018
Alexianna "Lexi" Mims didn't have the right materials to work with, so she began collecting ingredients like flour, eggs, sugar, and bananas, from the kitchen — except she wasn't baking a cake.
She was busy creating gory makeup, the kind you see in horror movies like "Dawn of the Dead" and "Friday the 13th," all from scratch.
"Flour, ketchup, chocolate, and food, whatever she could find, she was mixing up stuff from around the house," said her mother, Mary Zaczyk of Yatesboro.
The PA Cyber sophomore started out using homemade materials to hone her skills as an aspiring, self-taught SFX artist. She now uses both homemade and professional tools, like scar wax, to create realistic wounds. At least five days a week, the 15-year-old works on makeup and takes inspiration from prosthetic makeup artists like actor and director Tom Savini, whom she considers one of the best. Dressed as Wonder Woman, Lexi recently met Savini by chance at the Steel City Comic Con in Pittsburgh.
"He's like the godfather of horror makeup," Lexi explained.
Reconstructing the body
Working to reconstruct the body is nothing new for Lexi, who has undergone seven surgeries, two of them small procedures. She was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, a condition that affects the development of bones and other tissues of the face. It can prevent the skull, cheekbones and jawbones from developing properly, which causes facial defects, breathing issues, and hearing loss.
Lexi has what is considered a mild to moderate condition, based on her bone structure. She is missing the middle part of her ears, which causes hearing impairment, and has a bone-anchored hearing aid with a magnetic implant. Surgeons perform operations based on stage of development and age.
Her last surgery in April was her most major. It required reconstructing her entire upper and lower jaw and chin to open her airway and help with her breathing. Mentally, having Treacher Collins does not affect a person. The only thing that causes Lexi an issue is her sleep apnea. They are hoping the jaw surgery has corrected her sleep apnea but won't know until her next sleep study. Additional sleep allows Lexi to be more alert, remember more, and do better in school.
"I'm pretty much recovered now. I still get sore and numbness at times, that's about it," Lexi said.
Lexi is happy with the results. Still, her jaw sometimes aches because of the metal plates, and it could take more than a year for the aches and numbness to heal. She couldn't chew food after she had her surgery. On the first day of school, she was finally able to eat a submarine sandwich, her special dinner request.
Like Lexi, the 10-year-old boy in the movie "Wonder," also has Treacher Collins. When the film starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and the young Jacob Tremblay, came out in 2017, everyone kept asking Lexi if she saw the movie. She wasn't impressed.
"The little boy is wonderful, and the cast. The movie is a good movie," "but I didn't feel it was realistic. It was a happy ending where everything just ended perfectly. That's not real life," Lexi said.
Lexi could relate more to "The Greatest Showman," a 2017 musical starring Hugh Jackman. Many of the characters didn't feel they quite fit into society, but ended up a part of the circus and a larger family.
"We've probably watched it about 20 times already," her mom said. "We were just blown away."
Lexi says she has a strong support system — her amazing mother, seven siblings, three nieces, two nephews and another on the way in April.
She is also a proud godmother to her sister Natasha's son.
Her goal is to have all her surgeries over and done with. She was born without fully formed cheekbones around her eye sockets, which doesn't allow for wearing contact lenses. She also wants surgery on her ears, but few doctors perform the procedure. Highly recommended specialists are
in California, her mother said, and it comes at a price. Insurance doesn't cover the operation, which is considered cosmetic, so it takes a lot of fundraising. Many simply choose not to have the surgery.
"I think she's beautiful the way she is, but we all pick ourselves a part," her mom said.
Last year, Lexi became an ambassador, blogger and model for "Positive Exposure," a charitable arts, education, and advocacy organization that works with individuals living with genetic differences to promote an inclusive world.
Founded and directed by Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure uses the visual arts to impact the fields of genetics, mental health and human rights. Guidotti, an award-winning photographer, has worked with high-profile publications and took photographs of what were considered the world's most beautiful people, including supermodels such as Elle McPherson and Cindy Crawford, but gave it all up to bring awareness to the beauty of those with differences. He started out photographing a girl with albinism.
"He dropped all of that because he got tired of the industry telling him only certain people were beautiful," Lexi said.
About a year and a half ago, he spoke with Lexi's family and requested a photo session. They met again at the beginning of July when he visited State College to speak to first-year medical students and invited Lexi as a guest. He often speaks to medical students about looking beyond a person's syndrome, disability or difference, to see and treat them as people.
When she was 3 years old, Lexi loved watching medical shows and became obsessed with "Grey's Anatomy." The shows piqued her interest in special effects and she went from wanting to become a doctor to wanting to do special makeup.
Ultimately, it was her older sister, Audrina, 29, who inspired her. Her sister helped design theatrical sets as a student at Clarion University, and also did special effects make up. She remembers Audrina sometimes did Halloween makeup for their brother Nicholas and she wanted to do it too. That's how she first learned that in Hollywood, some of the special effects artists simply use food.
Gaining confidence at PA Cyber
Lexi started attending PA Cyber in sixth grade and has been a student since 2014. Her two dogs and three cats are great company for her while she is being cyber schooled.
She previously attended for five years DePaul School for Hearing and Speech in Pittsburgh, which her mother said offered a wonderful start. She then tried traditional public school for three years, but it wasn't the right fit.
"We're in a small town, in a small school. Teachers didn't always know how to incorporate the lessons for hearing impairment," she said.
Lexi felt rushed to do tests and grew tired of drama and cliques with other girls.
"PA Cyber has actually helped Lexi become more confident in herself, not having to deal with peer pressure or bullying...I'm so proud of how far she has come," Zaczyk said.
In seventh grade, Lexi became involved in marching band through her brother Nicholas, also her best friend. He started college this year at Penn State New Kensington, but she continued with band as a percussionist and bass drummer. She stopped gymnastics, but keeps active, lifting weights and working out.
"She loves all the PA Cyber gym equipment," her mom said. "We have PA Cyber gym equipment everywhere. She enjoys it. That's something she does use a lot."
Lexi is strongly considering studying SFX after graduation. A program for special make-up effects that Tom Savini started in Monessen, PA, is less than two hours away at the Douglas Education Center. She plans to tour the school and others in New York City, Florida and Los Angeles, to see if she might be interested. Nicholas, meanwhile, is studying engineering and interested in doing prosthetics.
"Maybe someday, they'll both be in Hollywood," their mom said, "him for his robotics and her for her special effects make up."
Casie Colalella / firstname.lastname@example.org
About PA Cyber
Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instructional methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers, and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and does not charge tuition to students or families.