Young leukemia patient discharged at Duke Hospital with confetti parade
Nov. 06, 2013 @ 11:19 PM

Hannah Bryant walked down the long hospital corridor on Wednesday, mask over her mouth, as Duke Hospital nurses and staff showered her with lime and purple confetti.

A musician strummed acoustic guitar chords, singing, “There She Goes,” as Bryant grinned, confetti catching on her black cap. She was going to walk out the door of the Duke pediatrics floor, discharged after spending more than a month in the blood and bone marrow transplant unit.

Bryant was diagnosed this year with leukemia, at 16. After multiple chemotherapy treatments, she became a good candidate for a bone marrow transplant, which she received Oct. 1.

The Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant program is the largest children’s transplant program in the world. The transplant, reserved as a last resort for children who are projected to live less than a year, injects a bone marrow or stem cell donation match into the patient, and if it takes, allows healthy cells to thrive within the young patient’s body.

Bryant and her mother Susan, from Roanoke, Va., have spent this past month living on the pediatrics floor. These patients stay an average of 55 days after a transplant, to ensure there aren’t complications.

Discharge day is a big deal on this floor. The staff celebrates with a handful of confetti parades a month, where parents shed tears. Some patients make a beeline for the door. Others give speeches or lingering hugs.

“There’s no two confetti parties that are the same,” said Molly Spragins, child life specialist with the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant program. Bryant’s “really excited to get home and start the next phase of her transplant journey, which is recovery.”

Bryant and her mom will move into a new suite-style room at the Ronald McDonald House in Durham, where people can stay while a member of their family is seeking long-term treatment. To Bryant, it’s about being close enough to Duke in case the worst happens. The necessary IV pump, multiple medications and blood draws will follow her outside of the hospital.

“I’m excited to get off tubes and not be hooked up anymore,” Bryant said. “No more beeping.”

She’s a high school junior looking into becoming a history teacher. She’s left her father and brother back in Roanoke, as well as her boyfriend and best friends. She’s behind on schoolwork and has had to sit out this volleyball season.

But she’ll video-chat with her friends and send them Facebook messages.

She’ll dive into pre-calculus and English once she’s at the Ronald McDonald House and gets more time to study. She also said she’s going to start a scrapbook about her journey battling leukemia, in which she’ll include photos of new friends and trinkets from hospital floor bingo games and arts and crafts sessions.

Scott Mofield, the director of family support for the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant program, said they continue to work with their younger patients and their families outside of the hospital, such as when they transition to the Ronald McDonald House.

“My excitement for them is only a small percentage of the hope and thrill (patients feel) that comes with walking out the door,” Mofield said. “... We see a small glimpse of what they go through on the outside, so what they’re feeling on the inside is something we can only imagine.”

Even if Bryant left her hospital room behind on Wednesday, she’ll still have routine appointments at Duke. And on Friday, the hospital unit is throwing her a Hunger Games-themed party, where she’ll come back to celebrate.

She turns 17 this weekend.

“I guess you can surprise yourself,” she said. “What you can deal with, how you handle things, you see the world differently.”