Take one look at Bryson Brotherton and it's hard to imagine there are times when the spunky two-year-old doesn't feel well.
Bryson came into the world with blonde hair and bright eyes in October 2014. His parents, Boyd and Elizabeth, were thrilled to add a little boy to their family.
The Brothertons settled into their new routine with two children and rocked along through the next 18 months. Last summer they took their first trip away from Bryson and Adalynn—which they say will be their last.
"We were only away for a couple of days and the kids stayed with Boyd's parents," Elizabeth says. "His mom told us both kids had been coughing and she gave them some medicine. It was nothing out of the ordinary."
After their trip, Bryson spiked a fever of 104 in the middle of the night. The next morning, Elizabeth noticed he was having trouble walking and couldn't put any weight on his legs. Once they were back in San Angelo, they took Bryson to urgent care where he was directed to the Shannon ER.
"We were admitted to the hospital for a few days while they figured out the diagnosis," Elizabeth recalls. "His C-reactive protein (CRP) level kept elevating which is a blood test for inflammation in the body. He still had fever and couldn't walk."
Bryson was airlifted to Dell Children's in Austin where he was diagnosed with osteomyelitis and a septic knee joint. Surgery was scheduled immediately and he stayed in the hospital for the next 10 days. Upon returning home, Bryson took antibiotics and received regular checkups. The family thought they were finally getting back on track—but the infection would cause more problems for Bryson.
"In September, we got a babysitter for a date night and Bryson got sick again," they say. "He threw up all night and the next morning. He kept chugging water and I thought he was thirsty because he was throwing up. He was still having heavy, wet diapers so we were just glad he didn't seem to be dehydrated. By 10 that night, he was lethargic and pale and we were all exhausted. I put him down and he couldn't walk straight."
Elizabeth took her son back to the ER while Boyd stayed with Adalynn. A nurse asked her if there was any way her 23-month-old son could be diabetic. On impulse, she said "no" then, "yes, his dad is a type 1 diabetic."
In the ER, Bryson's blood sugar was tested and the glucometer read 432. The team spent two hours locating a vein for an IV, finally finding a spot in his jugular. Bryson's blood sugar was 650, and he was on the verge of going into a diabetic coma.
"They told me if they didn't get the IV in they would have to drill a hole in his knee and access there," Elizabeth recalled. "They were in contact with Dell Children's and discussed how to stabilize him to be airlifted. They were rushing because they knew he could lose brain function if he wasn't stabilized. They prepared us that things could go south in the air and told me what they would do if something happened."
Boyd and Elizabeth were beyond devastated at the news of their son's diagnosis.
"Everyone tells you diabetes is 'manageable and treatable,' but you can die from going into a coma," Elizabeth says. "They told us he would have more than likely been diagnosed, but not this young. They think the infection he had last summer killed his pancreas and that's what set everything in motion."
"I was diagnosed at age 10, but my symptoms were completely different," Boyd says. "Elizabeth sent me a photo of him being airlifted, and Bryson was just lying there with all these wires coming out of him. It sent me over the edge. You never want to see anyone you love like that."
This time, Bryson spent three days in the hospital where he was stabilized before being sent home. But, his parents still had a lot to learn about how to handle his diagnosis. Their life would be different moving forward.
"It was a couple days of high emotions, soul searching, praying, finding answers and adjusting," Boyd recalls. "I was actually old enough to understand what was happening when I was diagnosed, but that wasn't the case for my son. It's not the worst thing, but you still don't want to see your baby go through something like this. Even though I've been living with it for 22 years, there's still a learning curve. Fortunately, there have been advancements in techniques and technologies which have made it a bit easier to live and cope with this condition."
Presently, Bryson wears an insulin pump and a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor which tells his parents his blood sugar every five minutes.
"As a two year old, he can't tell us how he's feeling," they say. "There are times he's running around playing with a very low blood sugar. The insulin pump is a lifesaver for us. It has a glucometer and we can remotely calculate how much insulin to give him. Before, we were giving him eight shots a day and would have to chase him down and hold him which wasn't very much fun. The three times a week we change out the Dexcom and the pump are his worst days. He tells us to 'go away' and that he 'doesn't want the machine.' It's hard, but we have to do it."
Life has changed dramatically for the Brotherton family, but they are getting through their new routine together.
"It will take time for him to get regulated," Boyd says. "I was an 'uncontrolled diabetic' for a long time and was a freshman in college before I finally figured out what I was doing. I show him how I take my shots and we check our sugar together. It will be frustrating and painful, and he's not going to like us at times, but it's what we have to do to make sure he lives a long and fruitful life."
Bryson was hospitalized earlier this year at Shannon due to a stomach bug that caused severe vomiting and low blood sugar. He spent two days on the Pediatrics Unit on an IV.
"There's a lot of stuff he loves to play with when he's in the hospital," Elizabeth says. "He's still on the go even when he doesn't feel well so he really loves the playroom and the garden and which were funded by Children's Miracle Network. He also loves the nurses. He likes it there and we think he feels at home."
Boyd and Elizabeth also thank Dr. Michael Wagnon, Bryson's pediatrician at Shannon, for his help managing their son's condition.
"We know Dr. Wagnon will get us in right away if we have any problem at all," they say. "We don't want him to end up back in the hospital and he's very understanding. Everyone at Shannon is so wonderful and they make us feel special."
Now, Bryson is doing well and adjusting to his new routine with support from his family.
"Bryson is a miracle because there was a chance he could have not made it through the horrible things that have happened to him," they say. "We call him our hero. He's going through so much, but he's very resilient and brave. He'll have ups and downs, but he's still going to be his cheery, little self and live his life."