How do you celebrate the 1-year anniversary of successful heart surgery? For Bryce Ripley and his family, there was no better way to mark the occasion than a visit back to Akron Children’s Hospital to support patients in need of a boost.
The 5-year-old, his mom, Tracy, and sister, Reyna, who is 9, visited the hospital June 1 – exactly a year since Bryce’s open heart procedure to replace his aortic valve – to deliver 50 bags filled with comfort items and activities for kids in the hospital. Bryce’s aunt and godmother, Liza Lash, also helped.
Bryce, who will be in kindergarten in the fall, helped his parents select some of the items to include, his mom said, and family and friends also donated to the cause.
“I originally had a goal to make up about 25 bags and because we received donations and contributions from family and friends, we were able to double the number of bags we were able to put together,” Tracy said.
Each bold red bag, emblazoned with the red ribbon emblem for heart health awareness, contained lip balm, tissue packs with an inspirational quote, a stuffed toy, stress ball, coloring book and more. Tracy said the family was inspired by Akron Children’s Hospital patient Kylie Jacobs. Bryce received one of her Kylie’s Bags of Love when he was in the hospital and it really helped him on one of his challenging days.
His surgery last year wasn’t the first time Bryce was a patient. A day after he was born full term with no complications, it was discovered that Bryce had a heart murmur, and he was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Akron Children’s.
“He was 8 pounds, so he was the biggest baby in the NICU,” his mom remembers.
Akron Children’s Heart Center pediatric cardiologist Dr. Chandrakant Patel diagnosed Bryce with aortic stenosis, or a narrowing of the aortic valve. He went home after 5 days but at 5 weeks, Bryce went into heart failure, and he underwent a lifesaving balloon valvuloplasty. The procedure, performed by Dr. John Lane and Dr. David Waight, involved the use of a catheter and balloon to push open the flaps of Bryce’s aortic valve.
Tracy and her husband, Rob, knew Bryce would eventually need to have the valve replaced. For the surgery a year ago, Dr. Michael Spector and Dr. Robert Stewart performed the Ross procedure, in which a donor valve was used to replace Bryce’s pulmonary valve and his existing pulmonary valve was used to replace his aortic valve. The new aortic valve is expected to last Bryce’s lifetime and the donor valve is estimated to last until Bryce is in his late teens, if not longer, Tracy said.
Now, Bryce checks in with his doctors every 8 months to monitor his progress. Tracy was thrilled that Bryce recently got the OK to play sports, and she’s looking forward to him playing soccer this summer. He just has to let his parents know when he gets tired so he can take a break.
“It gives me hope that he can just be a kid,” she said.