From Sorrow to Hope | South Georgia Magazine

Alumni form Brett Boyer Foundation, Brett’s Barn to shed light on congenital heart defects

There’s a place just outside of Nashville, Tennessee where the sun shines a little brighter and its rays are a little warmer. There is a palpable feeling of love and joy in the air. An afternoon there can transform even the toughest days, especially for the Boyer and Bryan families.

It’s also a place where more than two dozen rescue animals – including llamas, goats, horses and more – call home. A barn decorated with painted bumblebees stands amid fields of wildflowers. It is a place of solitude for families who remember and honor the late Brett Boyer, daughter of former student Bo Boyer, Ellen Boyer, and niece of former students Caroline Boyer Bryan and country star Luke Bryan.

“Brett’s Barn is the happiest place of love and peace,” Caroline said. “Every minute we spend there makes everything better.”

Today, the families are working together to raise awareness of congenital heart defects (CHD) and celebrate people with Down syndrome through Brett’s Barn and the Brett Boyer Foundation, an organization they started after losing Brett. due to complications of CHD.

“Brett has been the biggest and best unexpected blessing of our lives,” said Ellen, who attended Georgia Southern before completing her sonography degree in Atlanta. “Bo and I tried for her for seven years, so she was a miracle from the start. We found out that she would probably have Down’s Syndrome very early in my pregnancy and learned that she had a malformation heart attack when I was 22 weeks pregnant.

Coronary heart disease is the most common type of birth defect, affecting one in 100 babies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronary artery disease is present at birth and can affect the structure of a baby’s heart and how it works, including how blood flows through the heart and the rest of the body.

“I was so clueless about both coronary artery disease and Down syndrome,” Ellen added. “I thought his heart could be fixed, but I was so scared of what Down’s Syndrome would mean for our family dynamics. I was afraid of the wrong diagnosis. As soon as I laid eyes on her, I knew Down syndrome didn’t need to be cured. She needed to be celebrated for exactly who she was.

At four months, Brett had to undergo open-heart surgery.

“We were told that his particular heart defect, the atrioventricular septal defect, had a 97 percent survival rate with surgical repair,” Ellen said. “We were caught off guard to be in the 3%. After 100 days of struggling for more options in a pediatric cardiac intensive care unit that was full of families like ours, we lost Brett to complications from congenital heart disease.

Although the Boyer and Bryan families experienced intense grief, they immediately knew they wanted to turn their grief into something positive and create a legacy for their daughter.

“We decided to start the Brett Boyer Foundation about a week after losing Brett,” Bo said. “We needed a way to channel our grief and make sure Brett wouldn’t be forgotten. One of the harshest realities of losing a loved one is that the world just keeps spinning. The sun will rise the next day and people will go on with their lives. Even though Ellen and I were going through the worst time of our lives, people had responsibilities to their own families. Growing the Foundation has been our way of cementing Brett’s legacy in this world even though she’s not here. With each event we host, more people leave knowing his story and telling others about Brett’s brave fight and what his Foundation is doing to help other families in the same fight.

The mission of the Brett Boyer Foundation is to raise awareness and fund research into congenital heart disease while supporting the coronary community.

“Knowing that every 15 minutes another mother hears that her child has a heart defect and that we have the opportunity to help her is what keeps us going,” Ellen said.

The Foundation works to fund research projects across the country that advance the treatment of coronary heart disease and provide financial support to families affected by the disease by raising funds and awareness.

“We have just funded the first full-time psychologist for the Pediatric Cardiology Department at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital to serve patients and families diagnosed with coronary artery disease and hope this will become the standard of care,” said Ellen. .

In addition, the Foundation is currently supporting heart valve studies, a microbiome project on gut health in critical care settings, a biosensor study on monitoring systems, and patient and family support outcomes in various children’s hospitals in the country. Four new studies are expected to start in 2022 with Foundation support, Ellen added.

The Brett Boyer Foundation is also dedicated to Down syndrome inclusion, opportunity and celebration.

“It’s so important to us that people know that we didn’t lose Brett to Down syndrome, we lost her to congenital heart disease,” Ellen said. “That’s why we want to fund research to improve coronary artery disease diagnostic outcomes and celebrate the Down syndrome community. Down syndrome does not need to be cured. It’s pure happiness. »

The Foundation raises funds through the sale of merchandise online and at Luke’s 32 Bridge restaurant in Nashville, as well as various fundraisers such as Bike for Brett (in Cyclebars across the country and online), The Redbird Games in Franklin, Tennessee, and most recently the inaugural Brett Boyer Invitational featuring Putting for Purses in Savannah, Georgia.

“We were so proud to have the support of Georgia Southern as our presenting sponsor,” Ellen added.

The Foundation has established its own medical advisory board, which accepts grant proposals, determines appropriate funding, and monitors the results of those investments. Both Ellen’s and Bo’s families are involved in the Foundation, and Ellen and Caroline sit on its board of directors.

“Having the support of so many people who share common goals is the main reason the Foundation has been able to grow the way it has,” Bo said. “Our loved ones traveled with us on Brett’s journey and were there for us at all times. We realize that not all families are blessed with this type of support system, so one of the Foundation’s goals has been to somehow return that feeling of support to other families. . Additionally, having the opportunity to meet and work with some of the most gifted minds in the country on ideas of what the Foundation can do to help families who are currently in the midst of battle has been extremely humbling.

Caroline felt called to honor Brett’s memory as she watched her brother and sister-in-law mourn the loss of their newest family member. Soon, she found an opportunity to complete the Foundation and fulfill her promise to gift Brett a white pony.

“Our family has been through more than our fair share of tragedy, but with the other losses, Luke and I were able to step up and help support and uplift our family,” Caroline said. “But when Bo and Ellen lost Brett, I felt like there was nothing I could do. I wanted to help so badly. A friend of ours who works at a rescue farm in West Tennessee called me shortly after and said, “You won’t believe this, but we just saved a white pony…do you want her?”

“I knew it was something I could do to honor Brett.”

After Caroline adopted the white pony, Kilo, and a few other animals, she and the family knew they had something special.

“When the first animals arrived here, we felt the happiness it brought to all of us to be around them,” Caroline said. “To know we saved them and to feel Brett’s presence at the barn, I knew we wanted to share that happiness and Brett’s light with the world.”

Brett’s Barn is currently not open to the public, but families are working with local hospitals and Down Syndrome advocacy groups to share the love and joy they feel at the barn.

“To date, we have had multiple groups from Gigi’s Playhouse (a Down Syndrome Success Center), Down Syndrome Association of Middle Tennessee, St. Jude and other families with coronary artery disease that we have been talking to. personal connections through Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. Our goal is to one day have the barn in a public place, where our rehabilitated animals can safely love people and offer support as they do for our family every day.

Through their work with the Brett Boyer Foundation and Brett’s Barn, the Boyer and Bryan families found healing.

“There is such great purpose and perspective in our lives from The Foundation and Brett’s Barn,” Caroline said. “It’s given us more ways to use our platform for good and it’s so rewarding. It’s also a healthy place to spread our love through our grief.” – Crissie Elrick Bath

Comments are closed.