Looking at 4-year-old Bryson Gardner, you’d have no idea he’s persevered through more than someone 20 times his age.
Bryson was born prematurely. He spent his first days in the NICU at Golisano Children’s Hospital.
“He was here for 10 days,” said mom Ashley Gardner, “got blood transfusions, and that’s when they kind of picked up that he had a murmur when they were listening to his heart.”
Doctors eventually diagnosed him with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease in which the heart muscle becomes thickened, which can make it harder for the heart to pump blood.
Bryson spent his first few years in and out of hospitals from Southwest Florida to the cardio specialists at Joe DiMaggio on the east coast and eventually Shands Hospital in Gainesville to wait on a transplant.
“And they told us right after that that we couldn’t go home; to stay in the hospital, because the prognosis was so poor, that pretty much any day he could code and there was no way they could bring him back,” said Ashley.
Given that, it was a difficult decision for Bryson’s mom, who is also a NICU nurse, to bring her baby home.
“He wasn’t tolerating very well, like, because it was primetime for COVID,” she said. “There was no playroom. There was no volunteers. We weren’t allowed out in the hallways, and I was there by myself with no family. It was just getting bad. He was getting very angry and hitting and biting, so I’m like, at a certain point, like I can’t make him suffer, because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and I don’t want him to pass away knowing that he suffered the whole time he was in the hospital.”
Ashley took her son home to give him some kind of life not knowing if he’d live, but on the eve of his third birthday, they got the news they have been waiting for: a heart.
“It’s harder for us because we knew what happened to get that heart,” Ashley said.
Ashley wrote an anonymous letter to the mother of Bryson’s donor in Alabama.
“So we drove over one day when we were on vacation on a Saturday,” Ashley said. “She had this nice little banner with Grayson and Bryson’s picture together.”
Grayson’s mom met Bryson and listened to her son’s heart beating in his chest.
“They knew that we didn’t have anything to do with the passing of their child, and in return, they got to see the impact that their decision made because he’s absolutely wild, and they saw that right away,” Ashley said.
The family plans on a yearly visit with Grayson’s family.
Ashley said her son Bryson is now making up for lost time.
Years of toddlerhood spent in the hospital are spilling out now with his new, stronger heart pumping inside of him.