The experience of ministering to teenage mothers and disadvantaged children in Ecuador had a lasting effect on the minds and hearts of Casey and Renae Bryans.
Their return home to Tyler in 2012, after several years as missionaries, left them with a strong desire to help at-risk children.
On the morning of April 8, 2013, they received their licenses to become foster parents. That evening they were scrambling to buy a car seat and meet their first foster child.
The 3-week-old baby was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Christus Trinity Mother Frances-Tyler due to “failure to thrive.”After caring for the baby alongside the NICU team, the Bryanses soon took him home, knowing he would have some developmental delays.
“There was no question or not that this was the right decision,” Bryans, 44, said. “Jack immediately was part of our family…”The family adopted Jack Bryans when he was a little over a year old, adding to their family of five, which includes the Bryanses’ biological children Luke, 18, Jordan, 15, and Molly, 12. But over time, Jack’s significant development delays sparked some concern.
“At 1, some kids are walking but he couldn’t even sit up,” Mrs. Bryans, 42, said. “That was something visual in my mind that was way past developmental delays.”
They consulted Christus Trinity Clinic pediatrician Dr. Mark Barret, who ran a series of tests including an MRI that revealed lesions on Jack’s brain and evidence of a metabolic disease.
On Jan. 22, 2016, after an extensive battery of tests, Jack’s diagnosis was confirmed as Leigh syndrome, a rare and severe neurological disorder characterized by progressive loss of mental and movement abilities.
But even through the tough diagnosis the family has found encouragement in their son’s demeanor, which has earned him the nickname “Joyful Jack.”
“Despite all his difficulties, at times you would never know it,” Mrs. Bryans said. “He chooses joy every day.”
His positivity and bright smile, despite tough odds, have earned him the distinction of being the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals’ 2018 Miracle Child.
Jack, now 4, will represent Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals throughout the coming year, starting with his debut at the Tyler Rotary Club’s Christmas Parade in downtown Tyler at 6 p.m. Thursday. He will light the city of Tyler’s Christmas tree with Mayor Martin Heines.
“We’re excited and humbled that we get to share Jack with lots of people,” Mrs. Bryans said.
The family hopes that a cure will be found for Leigh syndrome. But in spite of their obstacles, they are reminded of the valuable lessons Jack has taught them.
“There is no cure for this and it’s a terrible diagnosis,” Mrs. Bryans said. “It just reminds us to choose joy in all things and life is a gift.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 30
6 p.m. parade start, followed by tree lighting
8 p.m. “Elf,” Liberty Hall, tickets cost $7
WHERE: Downtown Tyler
PARKING: Free at Fair Plaza Garage, 208 S. College Ave.