Our volunteers often have a personal connection with Make-A-Wish. Brayton’s mother Lisa had no idea how personal that connection would be until after her son was born.
Lisa had volunteered with Make-A-Wish® before Brayton’s story even began. A volunteer for the Mother’s Day Truck Convoy, her heart was full with the happiness she saw in the children and families around her. “Looking around at all the other children, it was so moving to see the happiness of these children,” she recalls of that moment, “little did I know I had a wish kid of my own in my belly.”
At two-months old, Brayton’s family knew something was wrong because he was not eating. Upon examination in the ER, he was rushed in for a spinal tap and within 24 hours had been airlifted away for treatment. Whereas that morning there had only been nervousness and wanting to know the truth, now his family had to deal with the answer they had been given: he was diagnosed with HLH (a rare blood disorder) and had very little chance to survive. Brayton went through months of chemotherapy and a highly invasive bone marrow transplant surgery. Unfortunately, not only was he suffering through a rare disorder, he had developed rare side effects as a result of his transplant. Brayton went through 6 months of adult sized blood transfusions with blood from all over the country being air lifted in for him in an effort to stabilize him.
What was amazing though, is that Brayton had little idea that any of this was out of the ordinary- hospitalization was all he had even known. He was too young to remember the worst of his surgeries and much too young to have ever remembered life before the isolation. He never cried around needles, was excited to see his doctors, and never found his constant presence in the hospital odd because he had no idea what he was missing.
Not allowed any physical toys and barely allowed to play at all, Brayton’s greatest joy was when people came to visit him in his isolation. Stuck in a small, sterile room for his own health and safety, the smallest of adventures or newest face could please him. He was outgoing and kind in to a way that never could have been expected from a child so isolated from birth.
As his isolation began to end and it looked like it was safer to begin reintroducing him to the world, Brayton’s doctors suggested Make-A-Wish®. His parents jumped at the opportunity, wanting to see him really get out into the world, and make his introduction to life beyond the hospital something incredible and special.
When he was four-years old, his wish trip finally became a reality. A trip to Disney was the perfect chance to get him out amongst people in the most positive environment his parents could think of. Brayton had never been on a commercial plane ride and had never been out in public crowds. Practically everything they did was a first for him. “It was also our first real thing we’d done together as a family,” his mom admits. No worries about medical treatments were allowed on their first trip together and everything was taken care of for them. Rides, roller coasters, even just waiting in line amongst other people: everything Brayton got to do was huge for him after life in a bubble.
Their fears of him being overwhelmed by the crowds after so many years in isolation were completely unfounded as Brayton flourished under not only the constant presence of people but their attention as well. He smiled the whole time, squealing when it was not doctors tucking him into bed anymore, but Disney characters. The trip was the grandest exit from the hospital his family could have imagined for Brayton, a surprise at the end of the four years of nonstop difficulty that gave them a chance to just have a “normal” experience as a family.
“Sometimes there was fears he just wouldn’t survive another day,” his mom explains, “and yet this priceless trip gave us the chance to just be able to go on a trip to Disney like a normal family vacation.”
Today Brayton loves nothing more than to spend all day playing outside in the sun and his treatments continue with 2 medical trips a month, daily injections, and monthly infusions. Despite his daily struggles, he’s “the happiest kid,” getting to see new things and even make friends for the first time in his life. After moving to North Carolina for better treatments and specialists for Brayton, all of his classmates and teachers constantly express their amazement at just how happy he is. His teachers and doctors had no idea what to expect from a child suffering from such a rare disease, but received only his outgoing, kind personality. At a new school, Brayton is flourishing with tons of friends and new adventures.
Seven years old now, Brayton has not only returned to Disney, but participated in his own Mother’s day truck convoy just like his mom had once done. With a life full of as much adventure as he can get, Brayton still looks through their pictures and relives the experience of his first foray into the world.