What has 6-year-old Jack Ryan’s care at CHoR entailed?
“Pretty much everything,” said his mom, Carolyn.
Born at 26 weeks, Jack Ryan weighed only 1 pound, 9 ounces. He had significant chronic lung disease and pulmonary hypertension, and developed anoxic brain injury (lack of oxygen to the brain results in the death of brain cells) as he fought for life in his earliest days.
“I had a high-risk obstetrician at VCU Health. I knew my pregnancy was going to be challenging, so I chose VCU Health based on reputation even though I live an hour away,” said Carolyn.
It turned out to be the perfect place for Jack Ryan too, who spent his first 13 months in our NICU and the next two years in the PICU receiving life-saving care. He’s seen pediatric specialists throughout the hospital and had many surgeries and procedures over the years. He relies on a g-tube for nourishment, ventilator for breathing, and his family and CHoR team for smiles and hugs.
“He is the happiest child I’ve ever known,” said his grandmother, who affectionately goes by Grizzly. “Hugs are his favorite. He’ll give a hug any day.”
His team has come to rely on him for a dose of happiness in return.
“Jack Ryan truly embodies joy. Seeing his smile and laughter can instantly turn a bad day into a good one,” said Josh Andrzejewski, one of the hospital chaplains. “I met Jack Ryan’s mom a few days before he was born. I worked with them throughout his NICU and PICU stays and still keep in touch when he comes for checkups.”
Josh was one of many team members who stood out to Carolyn and Grizzly during their time in the intensive care units. Jack Ryan’s social worker from the PICU, Patty Roberts, was struck by his resiliency and infectious smile, and his family’s love and commitment through the ups and downs. Nurse practitioner Dale Purrington was another favorite – and Jack Ryan made quite an impression on her as well.
“The best part of taking care of Jack Ryan was watching him defy the odds and not only survive but thrive. It’s incredible to see him today enjoying a rich quality of life I honestly wasn’t sure he would be capable of. His family is absolutely incredible, fully committed to him and his care. There was someone constantly at his bedside and they became an integral part of the care team advocating for him every day. Grandma Grizzly also found the time to bake treats for the staff,” reminisced Dale.
After discharge from the PICU, Jack Ryan moved to our Transitional Care Unit on the Brook Road Campus and has been brightening days as a resident there ever since.
“The Transitional Care Unit is not only a hospital, it’s a home. They do a wonderful job of trying to make it feel that way,” said Carolyn. “Jack Ryan has never been home. CHoR is his home. His nurses are like his other moms.”
More than 30 children call our Transitional Care Unit home. While we’re their nurses, therapists, dentists and specialists – we are also their teachers, recreation therapists, neighbors and friends.
“Jack Ryan always has a smile on his face and is no different from any boy. He loves all the opportunities for fun that are available at the TCU – going to school, going outside to play on the playground, crafts and doing activities with his friends,” said Jessica Gulizia, one of his recreation therapists.
Field trips were his favorite – in pre-COVID times – particularly Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens during the holidays. He also got to go to Great Wolf Lodge with his mom, grandma, grandpa, rec therapists and nursing staff, an unforgettable experience for all of them.
“We know that trip took a lot of planning and coordination – and a lot of work from the staff. Everything he’s gotten to do is because of the dedication of the staff. Everyone has just been phenomenal,” said Grizzly.
He also likes just hanging out, being rocked in the rocking chair, any toy with buttons and lights, watching movies and especially listening to music. He’s “obsessed” with the Little Mermaid according to Mom and Grizzly.
“Jack Ryan has a way of just sucking everyone into his world, whether he’s being mischievous or funny. He thinks he’s funny,” laughed Grizzly. “He’s taught us to really focus in on the simpler things in life.”
While Jack Ryan’s journey has been far from simple, his pure heart and love for life have been simply remarkable.
“Jack Ryan taught me that life is worth fighting for. Seeing his strength and his family's faith, even in the most difficult times, is so inspiring,” added chaplain Josh, who’s typically known for being the one to inspire others.
Learn more about our award-winning Transitional Care Unit