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The Gift of Life: Ryder's Legacy Lives On

​This article was previously published on Atrium Health's Daily Dose​

​Please be advised, this is a story about the tragic death of a child and how the loss of his precious life helped save others.

​Ryder Brown's mom, Melissa, is an emergency department nurse at Atrium Health Levine Children's Hospital. When she kissed her son goodbye before work one morning, she never imagined she would see him come through the emergency department doors just a few hours later. In the midst of grieving the loss of her son, Melissa made a choice to honor Ryder's legacy by giving life to others.

Ryder Brown made his mark on the world right from the start. Born severely premature, Ryder experienced some developmental delays, in addition to visual and hearing impairments. But, according to his mom Melissa, his personality and love were larger than life.

"He was just amazing," Melissa says. "He had the best smile in the world, and an infectious laugh. I would lay with him and tell him he was my best friend, because I felt like I could just talk with him about anything."

Melissa is a pediatric nurse in the emergency department at Atrium Health Levine Children's Hospital. In December 2021, Melissa kissed Ryder goodbye before heading into work, not realizing her world was about to change.

"Ryder doesn't have a pulse…"

Several hours later, Melissa received a call from Ryder's in-home nurse saying that Ryder wasn't responsive.

"I told his nurse to just get to the hospital and he would be okay," Melissa recalls. "But his nurse said, 'no, you don't understand. Ryder doesn't have a pulse.'"

First responders arrived on scene at Melissa's house and administered medicine to perform advanced life support. Through their heroic efforts, they were able to get Ryder's heart beating again before transporting him to Levine Children's Hospital.

When Melissa knew Ryder was on his way to the emergency department, she ran back to meet him. In the midst of the stress and uncertainty, Melissa says her team stepped in to support and comfort her.

"They were holding his hand and stroking his hair," Melissa says. "In that moment, I wasn't a nurse. I was a mom and they were my family.

Ryder was evaluated in the emergency department and moved to the intensive care unit (ICU). The team performed additional testing and realized that in the period of time before Ryder was able to get to the hospital, he had limited oxygen flowing to his brain.

"They tried to rule out everything," Melissa says. "But at that point, he was braindead."

One Choice Saves Seven Lives

Amidst processing the pain of losing the light of her life, whom she kissed goodbye just a few hours earlier, Melissa quickly and courageously made the decision for Ryder to be an organ donor.

"Organ donation can be life changing – life saving," says Dr. Chad Scarboro, medical director at the emergency department at Atrium Health Levine Children's Hospital. "Melissa wanted Ryder's legacy to continue in that way."

Although it's a difficult topic to discuss, there are currently 1,900 children under the age of 18 waiting for a variety of organs in the U.S. – more than 25% of which are under 5 years old.

Receiving an organ can add years – even decades – to a child's life. Most pediatric organ donations come from adult donors, but children typically respond better to child-sized organs.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people don't like to think that children pass away. And they surely don't want to think about doing organ donation for children," Melissa says. "But there are so many children who need hearts, lungs and livers. And if you can help families not have to go through what I went through – 1,000% I would encourage it."

Melissa made the decision to donate Ryder's organs to honor him, the life he lived and the legacy he continues to carry on each day.

"There's no greater gift than the gift of life, and that's what Ryder gave," she says. "He gave seven recipients the gift of life."

The pediatric transplant program at Levine Children's Hospital goes through LifeShare of the Carolinas, the federally designated Organ Procurement Organization for the Charlotte region, for organ donation. Learn more about Lifeshare of the Carolinas.

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