Child life specialists standing on both sides of Bryson Morris

In a hospital room decorated with posters of the Avengers and filled with wires at Loma Linda University Children's Hospital, 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. They've simplified complex medical concepts, organized engaging activities, and established routines to bring a sense of normalcy to Bryson's life.

Naomi says children like Bryson are resilient and highlights the importance of providing proper education and support to 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 lines to familiarize kids with medical procedures," explains Burroughs. "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 Naomi's 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," says Leilany Morris, Bryson's mother. "Before, it was kicking, screaming, holding him down; now, it's a breeze," said Morris.

Morris says the Child Life Department has significantly impacted 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," she 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 #22 in the nation for pediatric cardiology and heart surgery by U.S. News & World Report. To make an appointment for specialized care or to see a primary care pediatrician, visit online.