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Building Dreams Together: Riley's story

Posted on Dec. 15, 2014 ( comments)
Riley Bridge

Riley Bridge with her parents, Josh and Dana Bridge.

This is the sixth in an ongoing series of stories about some of the children we are helping through Building Dreams Together: The MultiCare Campaign for Healthy Children.

Young Riley Bridge and her parents, Dana and Josh, spent more than a month at MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital. Then Riley and Dana were part of a design team charged with making our new Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) a better place for kids and the people who love them.

Dana Bridge was just four months into her first pregnancy when doctors determined that her unborn child had an atrial septal defect (ASD) — a hole between the left and right upper chambers of the heart. 

Concerned that the baby was not doing well, Dana’s medical team urged her to deliver early. Riley Bridge was born a month before her scheduled delivery date. The tiny baby girl had a heart defect, a vision impairment, and an underdeveloped kidney.

Multiple surgeries for little girl

Within the first six years of her life, Riley underwent six surgeries at MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital: She had a feeding tube inserted, then removed and her stomach repaired; her failing kidney was removed; and she had three heart surgeries. 

Her first heart surgery, at age two, was to repair the hole in her heart. The second, when she was six, addressed a build-up of scar tissue near her aortic valve. But because of severe complications, including inflammation in her heart, lungs, kidney and pancreas, as well as damage to another heart valve, she had a third operation within 10 days of the second.

“For 28 days, we slept on the floor of her hospital room, first in the PICU , then on the medical/surgical floor,” said Riley’s dad, Josh Bridge. “The staff tried to accommodate us, but we slept on the floor.”

If either parent visited the restroom in the night, they had to go down a hall, through a security door and down another hall, then back through security on the return trip. If they wanted to take a shower, they had to drive home while grandparents watched Riley.

When she was well enough, Riley was moved to the medical/surgical floor and was released within a few days. Today, at 11 years old, she’s doing well.

“We are still seeing quite a few doctors through Mary Bridge,” Dana said. “It’s fantastic to have that many great doctors and nurses in one place and truly right in our backyard.”

Making room for a family-friendly PICU

Designed with families in mind, Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital’s 30-year-old PICU has undergone a long-overdue transformation that includes providing spacious private rooms that can accommodate a team of caregivers, family members and the latest lifesaving technology. 

The design committee for this ambitious project consisted of architects, medical personnel, community leaders, Dana and Riley Bridge, and other patients and families. The Bridge’s experience was invaluable to the project.

“When your child is critically ill, you don’t want to leave,” Dana remarked. For that reason, patient rooms now include sleeping accommodations for parents, along with a private bathroom and shower. 

Dana also advocated for a private space to meet with the doctor. “It really hit home when I told the committee what it’s like to get heartbreaking news in public, as we did when Riley had to go back into surgery. I worked with other patient families and it was a big thing for them,” said Dana.

The Bridges were impressed with the overall design of the new PICU. “The architects did a fantastic job of bringing in lots of natural light, while still being respectful of privacy and allowing a good flow,” Dana observed. 

Another of the design details she was excited about is the LED lights placed above the beds. “Kids can change the colors and patterns, which can really brighten their mood.”

Giving back to Mary Bridge

Throughout their daughter’s multiple surgeries, the Bridges were impressed by the level of care she received at Mary Bridge. Not only did Riley have a top-notch pediatric surgeon, specialist nurses, therapists and other physicians caring for her, she had the support of Child Life specialists.

“They gave her a tour of the hospital; explained, in an age-appropriate way, what each surgery would be like; helped her manage pain; and got her back into just plain being a kid again,” Josh Bridge said.

For Dana, serving on the PICU design committee was a way to express her thanks and make an experience like theirs even better for seriously ill children and their families in the future. “I put a good chunk of time into this, but even a bigger chunk of love, because it is so important.”

As Josh put it, “I just can’t think of a prouder moment than seeing a bed where the parent of a sick child can sleep comfortably, the shower where they can bathe, the spacious room where they can gather. The fact that Mary Bridge listened to us is amazing.”

The healing powers of Nemo

Riley enjoyed being on the committee, too, and made at least one important contribution to the design process — she insisted that the PICU include a large aquarium.

“When Riley was down on the medical/surgical floor, we would take her in a wagon to the play room where there was an aquarium.” Dana recalled. “It actually became part of her therapy. She was so weak from not moving for three weeks that her therapist would have her lift her arms to point to different fish and play ‘Where’s Nemo?’”

At one point it appeared there might not be enough money in the budget for the aquarium, but Riley and her mom were able to address the important role it played in her physical and emotional recovery. Nemo stayed in the picture.

Related stories

Meet more of the children we are helping through our Building Dreams Together campaign.

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