SALT LAKE CITY — A 13-year-old from Wyoming has been decorating his hospital room at Primary Children's Hospital with help from firefighters across the country.
Bryson Quinney was born with "half-of-a-heart" and has a congenital condition called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. He's had numerous surgeries including his first open heart surgery at just seven days old.
"I haven't been able to play some sports I'd like to play, I haven't been able to go out and do things my friends have been able to do," said Bryson from his hospital bed on Monday afternoon. "It's kind of hard just being able to sit in the hospital and not being able to go outside, go to a Jazz game or go to a Bees game."
Bryson's heart problems are causing liver damage and he requires oxygen all of the time. He and his family arrived at Primary Children's Hospital in late January anticipating a heart transplant.
"The risk of rejection was going to be too high so they canceled the surgery," said Bryson's father Eric Quinney, who cited blood cross-matching which indicated a dangerous procedure.
Eric has been a firefighter for 15 years and is currently serving as Chief at Uinta County Fire and Ambulance. He has seen firsthand the need for organ donors but is now experiencing the process from a different perspective.
"Now that we're on this side waiting for that gift of life, it just has put it into a different type of focus for us," he said. "It's kind of been a roller coaster for us here, but the nice thing is that Bryson's doing pretty good considering."
Since last March, #BrysonStrong has been known throughout rural Wyoming signifying the strength of Bryson's support from the community. Now, #BrysonStrong is nationwide, with the help of social media and first responders sharing the request to help Bryson get through while waiting for a heart.
"I think it's awesome just how all these departments have reached out to bring me things. It's really awesome," Bryson said while laying under a blanket woven with Salt Lake City Fire Department's logo on it. Bryson's hospital room is now filling up with fire memorabilia. T-shirts hang from the ceiling. Patches line a cork board. Chief's coins are filling up a container. Departments from across the United States have been contributing to Bryson's collection either in person or via mail.
On Monday, Bryson opened up packages from fire departments in Maryland and North Dakota. He read the letters of encouragement out loud to a group of friends who had come to visit from Wyoming.
"My team and I understand you're currently in the hospital and may be there for some time," recited Bryson reading a letter from Arnegard Fire Protection District in North Dakota. "Remember that rule one of firefighting is to never give up."
Bridger Valley's Honorary Firefighter (Bryson) is still waiting for a heart. He's been on the list since October. As he waits, he's hopeful to see new fire memorabilia each day to help him decorate his hospital room and pass the time.
"Firefighters from New York or Florida, you know I might not know them personally but they're brothers and sisters because we're part of a big family," said Eric Quinney.
Any fire departments that want to add to the collection during Bryson’s extended stay at Primary Children’s can send memorabilia, patches and/or letters to this address:
Care of Forever Young Room
100 Mario Capecchi Dr.
Salt Lake City, UT 84113
If you'd like to help Bryson and his family as they prepare for life after the surgery, you can donate to their GoFundMe here.