Bryson’s Brave Heart

A five-year-old gets personalized care as he waits for heart transplant.

Linda Ha, Loma Linda University Health
Bryson’s Brave Heart
Bryson Morris with two of his caregivers. [Photo: Loma Linda University Health]

In a hospital room at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital decorated with posters and filled with wires, a courageous five-year-old, Bryson Morris, is waiting for a heart transplant.

Bryson was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital condition that severely hampers the development of the left side of his heart. Since birth, Bryson has navigated a challenging medical journey, undergoing two open-heart surgeries and procedures to sustain his fragile heart.

For the past six months, the hospital has been Bryson’s home. During his stay, the Child Life Department, led by specialists like Naomi Burroughs, has played a vital role in offering comfort and support. The Child Life team has simplified complex medical concepts, organized engaging activities, and established routines to bring a sense of normalcy to Bryson’s life.

Burroughs says children like Bryson are resilient, and yet it’s important to provide proper education and support to help them understand and cope with their medical challenges. Using child-friendly language and visual aids, the Child Life specialists aim to clarify medical procedures and help alleviate fears.

“We use teaching dolls and models of PICC [peripherally inserted central catheter] lines to familiarize kids with medical procedures,” Burroughs explains. “We also use gentle language, like ‘pokes’ instead of ‘shots,’ to make discussions less intimidating.”

One particular challenge was managing Bryson’s sensitivity during procedures like changing his PICC line, which is used for IV medications. With Burroughs’ help, Bryson gradually adapted to the process, turning what was once difficult into a routine.

“Now, he knows Naomi will be there on Wednesdays to guide him through the process, making him feel comfortable,” Leilany Morris, Bryson’s mother, says. “Before, it was kicking, screaming, holding him down; now, it’s a breeze.”

Leilany says the Child Life Department has significantly helped Bryson’s emotional and mental well-being. The specialists have organized scavenger hunts around the unit to encourage him to leave his room, coordinated his participation in a Valentine’s Day heart parade where he distributed treats to staff and fellow patients, and allowed his family to bring in a Christmas tree with Grinch decorations, mirroring their home traditions.

“We couldn’t have gotten through this without the child life team,” Morris says. “They’ve made every holiday special for Bryson, and we’re looking forward to returning to t-ball and swimming lessons once he’s out of the hospital.”

Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital has been ranked number 22 in the nation for pediatric cardiology and heart surgery by U.S. News & World Report.

The original version of this story was posted on the Loma Linda University Health news site.

Linda Ha, Loma Linda University Health