Bryce Arquilla is a walking, talking, bowling miracle
Genesis GOPEDs patient has energy to 'spare'
Picking up a 7/10 split in bowling is one of the toughest shots in the game. The odds are stacked against you, just like they were stacked against Bryce Arquilla of Bettendorf before he was even born.
Bowling is his game, his passion, his motivation. Looking at the joyous 8-year-old, it is hard to believe how many medical 7/10 splits he's had to pick up just to be here today – a Genesis Home Runs for Life honoree.
Bryce was born prematurely, and at first, his parents, Leslie and Ryan, thought their biggest hurdle was getting Bryce strong enough to come home after spending a month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
After a few months, they noticed he wasn't turning his head to the right. So they consulted with their pediatrician, a physical therapist, and finally, a neuromuscular specialist who ordered an MRI.
"At this point, he was seven months old. Following the MRI, we discovered that he had a stroke in utero that devastated the left hemisphere of his brain," Leslie said.
With tears starting to well up in her eyes, she paused for a moment and carefully continued.
"They weren't sure how he would progress in the future, but we had hope, and he was seemingly very healthy otherwise."
It was at that point the young couple who met and fell in love years earlier at the Sterling, Illinois movie theater vowed to get their firstborn son "every single therapy" they could to help Bryce overcome his weak right side.
"That's when we started going to Genesis Outpatient Pediatric Physical Therapy Center (GOPEDS), and he has received services there from the kindest, most amazing people. We are going on eight years now, and he has made such amazing strides working with all the therapists at GOPEDS," Leslie said with tears rolling down her cheek.
Later in 2014, he and his family faced another serious challenge when he started to experience life-threatening seizures.
"When most people have a seizure, they come out of it - basically, they are self-limiting, and Bryce's weren't. If he had a seizure, we would have to give him rescue medication to get him out of it. If we didn't do it almost immediately, usually within one minute, he would go into status epilepticus (a condition in which repeated epileptic seizures occur without the patient gaining consciousness between them. If untreated for a prolonged period, it can lead to long-term disability or death)," Leslie said.
Over three years, Bryce was airlifted five different times to save his life.
"We almost lost him," stuttered Leslie as she fought back more tears.
"It came to a point where he needed brain surgery. Doctors in Chicago recommended Bryce have a hemispherectomy. That means disconnecting the entire left hemisphere of his brain," Leslie said.
"And from there, we got a second opinion in Boston. They did test after test, mapping out his brain to determine where the seizures came from. Finally, in 2017, Boston Children's Hospital ended up doing a modified hemispherectomy. We saved some of his left hemisphere that was still affected by stroke but wasn't seizing."
Bryce had to learn how to do everything over again after his surgery. But the one thing he didn't do before the surgery was talk – he was completely nonverbal. During the surgery, they disconnected his left temporal lobe, which is where speech resides in the brain.
"They couldn't tell us 100 percent if he would ever talk, but they really felt that he would since the seizures were under control. So even though they disconnected that language center, they believed the language had transferred to the other side. Sure enough, three months later, he started saying words, and he hasn't stopped ever since," Leslie said with a huge smile.
Leslie and Ryan credit the hard work of Bryce's therapists at GOPEDS for being instrumental in his remarkable progress over the last five years.
Genesis Physical Therapist Kimberly Nielsen has worked with Bryce since 2015 and gushes over his progress.
"His determination, perseverance, and fun-loving attitude have allowed him to overcome so many obstacles. He wasn't walking and had significant right-sided neglect when we started working with him. He can now run, jump, bowl, kick, ride a bike, and do so many activities with his right arm. He also gives the best hugs," said Nielsen.
Everyone you talk to about Bryce mentions his bowling prowess and his hugs.
When his speech therapist MaryBeth Myers was recovering from her own brain surgery, she received a special visit from Bryce.
"Bryce serves as an inspiration to many of us here at GOPEDS. He came to visit me when I got home last summer from my surgery at Mayo clinic. He came in with a balloon, a little basket, and some goodies. He jumped up and gave me the biggest bear hug I think I've ever had. It probably lasted 10 minutes. He just kept squeezing me, saying, I love you. I love you. I love you. And I just kept telling him I loved him back," Myers said.
Bryce loves going to school, learning, talking, and playing with his younger brother Brant. He is also known for loving to be the center of attention. Leslie jokes that he is "such a show-off."
If you are lucky enough to be at Modern Woodman Park on Friday night when Bryce is on the field, expect him to put on a show.
"Home Runs for Life is just up his alley. He loves sports, especially bowling, but he could throw a ball before he could walk, and he's got aim. We can't wait to see him out on the field," Leslie said.
"It's been an emotionally wild ride. But we feel like we're on the other side of it. And now we're just watching Bryce learn and grow in amazement daily."