Looking at Bryson Quinney today, you see a healthy and active 16-year-old who is busy playing sports, enjoying video games and active in various school activities.
Just three years ago though, life was much different for the Lyman, Wyoming, teen in the hospital battling for his life. A heart donation and transplant saved him, and now Bryson and his father, Eric Quinney, are trying to make sure others have the same chance at life he was given.
“In middle school I went around with an oxygen tank and an IV pump with me every day,” he said. “Now I’m able to play football and baseball, and some basketball. It’s really amazing how my life has changed because of organ, eye and tissue donation.
“Obviously, someone else's family had to go through a really rough time – losing someone – to be able to give me the life I do have, but I'm eternally eternally grateful for it.”
Wanting to do all they can to promote organ donation, the Quinneys helped spearhead an effort to bring Donate Life license plates to Wyoming. The plates became available at the beginning of January.
“We're rolling them out,” Eric said. “We were fortunate to get the very first license plate off of the presses. We're super excited because we saw both sides of the organ donation process. We saw the gift of life that Bryson got with a new heart. We also saw the need for more people to become organ donors because [Bryson’s friend] passed away waiting, and that was pretty emotional for our family.”
Born With Half A Heart
Shortly after Bryson’s birth in October 2006, it was discovered he had hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
Not only was he missing the right side of his heart, but the large arteries from his heart were backward and there were problems with his heart valves. Bryson had his first open heart surgery when he was just days old. He’d have another open-heart surgery when he was 6 months old and a third at age 2.
From there he did well for several years before things began to worsen in his early teens.
In 2019 when Bryson was 12, he started having problems with his liver and also required oxygen. His doctors decided in October of that year to list him for a heart transplant. Just a few months later in January 2020 while at the hospital in Salt Lake City, the Quinneys were told a heart was available, but the surgery was canceled at the last minute because one of the antibody tests came back as positive and the risk for rejection was too high to proceed.
It was then decided that Bryson would remain in the hospital because of his deteriorating condition.
“When the first heart didn't work out, I think it really opened our eyes for the road that we were about to embrace,” Bryson said. “Deciding to stay inpatient at Primary Children's Hospital was a big decision. My parents would switch every few days to come stay with me in the hospital so one could be home with my older brother during his senior year.”
It was in March 2020 that the news came that a heart had been found, and on March 5, Bryson had a heart transplant.
“It was all kind of a whirlwind of events,” he said. “My dad was sitting in the room with me and almost my whole team came in and said, ‘We have a new heart for you and you’re going to go into surgery.’ It was really crazy to know how much my life was going to change that day.”
Eric said he still gets goosebumps when he thinks about it.
“It was a super emotional process,” he said. “We were super excited because Bryson got his heart and we were also sad because we've seen people not get their organ donations in time.”
Sparking An Idea
More than a year later while participating in an event in Salt Lake City to help launch Utah’s Donate Life license plate, the father and son got the idea to do the same in Wyoming.
The Quinneys enlisted the help of Uinta County state Sens. Wendy Schuler and Fred Baldwin and Reps. Ryan Berger and Jon Conrad as sponsors for a bill to create a specially designated license plate to increase awareness of organ, eye and tissue donation. The bill was introduced during the 2022 budget session of the state Legislature, but time ran out before it could be brought to a vote.
“When they just ran out of time we thought, ‘That's going to cost us a whole year of awareness opportunity,’” Eric said. “But we are super thankful for Senator Schuler, Senator Baldwin and our local house representatives who supported that to bring it back up again and not let the issue die.”
The bill was reintroduced in the 2023 session by Schuler. This time it passed, and Gov. Mark Gordon signed it into law on Feb. 27. The Quinneys were supposed to go to Cheyenne to be with the governor when he signed it, but closed roads meant they had to watch over Zoom. And just last week, Schuler presented the pair with the pen the governor used to sign the bill.
“We did a lot of grassroots efforts with the help of Donate Life and the Donor Alliance, and it passed,” Eric said. “People are literally going to be saving lives by putting this license plate on their vehicle because they're going to help spark conversations.”
Not All Endings Are Happy
During his time at the hospital Bryson met a young girl named McKenzie who was also waiting for not only a heart, but a kidney, and they became good friends.
A few months after Bryson received his heart, she died after having spent almost a year in the hospital. Bryson said the plates are also a way to honor McKenzie and others who’ve lost their lives waiting on the transplant list.
“My friend had waited over 300 days before she passed away, and some people waited longer than that,” Bryson said. “So, if we can get more people to sign up to be organ donors, we can cut those waits down and save a lot of lives.”
The pair got to provide feedback on the design of the plate. Across the bottom it reads, “Be an organ, eye and tissue donor.” The Donate Life logo also is prominent on the left side.
“We wanted the Donate Life of Wyoming logo as big as possible on the plate so people could see it when they're driving down the road and say, ‘Hey, that's a Donate Life plate,’” Eric said.
You Can Save Lives
There are now 1,300 people in Colorado and Wyoming are waiting for an organ transplant, with about 100,000 on the waitlist nationally. Just one person can save up to eight lives through organ donation and save and heal up to 75 lives through tissue donation.
“Donor Alliance is so appreciative of Eric and Bryson,” Donor Alliance spokesperson Heather Burke said. “They're working so hard to connect people to our mission. And when you get one of these license plates you are literally saving and healing lives.”
In 2023, the generosity of more than 300 donors across Colorado and Wyoming resulted in 918 organ transplants. There also were more than 1,700 tissue donors, which provided more than 100,000 tissue grafts to those in need. Tissue transplants help tens of thousands of people suffering from injury, disease or trauma.
Wyoming is consistently top 5 in the country for donor registration ,according to the Donor Alliance, with about 60% of Wyomingites registered as organ, eye and tissue donors.
“You have the power to save a life like Bryson's life was saved when somebody decided to become an organ and tissue donor,” Burke said. “This rolling billboard that we'll have out there throughout the state will now inspire more Wyomingites to register.”
To receive the Donate Life plate, a completed application must be mailed to the Wyoming Department of Transportation, along with $30 made payable to WYDOT. Plates will be issued numerically in consecutive order and forwarded to the treasurer's office of the county of your choice. Current plates must be surrendered upon issuance of the Donate Life plates.\