Gregory Bryant-Bruce, who made news in custody fight as baby, dies
By CHRISTIAN BOTTORFF
Gregory Bryant-Bruce, the child who made national headlines in 1994 when his physician mother kidnapped him from Tennessee foster care, has died at his mother's home in Belmont, Calif., from complications related to his rare liver disease. The 10-year-old's breathing became abnormal Sunday and his mother, Cheryl Bryant-Bruce, held him in her arms until he died peacefully at 9:33 a.m., said the boy's maternal grandmother, Thelma Bryant.
''Cheryl just held him close and called her other two children to come downstairs and say their goodbyes to him,'' Bryant said. The child's death was attributed to complications from Alagille's syndrome, the rare liver disorder he had since birth. ''He closed his eyes, took his last breath and he just went. If there's angels, he's definitely one,'' Bryant said. ''He fought a good, long fight.''
The morning of his death, for the first time, his tiny face appeared to capture a smile, she said. ''It was like, 'I'm OK, I'm at peace,' '' she said yesterday by telephone from her daughter's home. Even so, the boy's death came as no surprise. He was hospitalized in recent weeks after experiencing external bleeding that would have required extensive surgery to fix, even a ventilator. His mother opted not to put him through the procedures, his grandmother said. He returned home the day before Thanksgiving.
''He lived the last few months of his life to the fullest,'' his mother said in an Associated Press report. ''He took a trip to Disneyland and got to dance with (Disney characters) Lilo and Stitch, which is what he wanted. ''On Thanksgiving Day, the fire department (in San Mateo County) made him a junior firefighter and got him a Christmas tree.''
The child's story captured national attention almost a decade ago.
Bryant-Bruce and the child's father, Gregory Bryant-Bruce Sr., lost custody in December 1993 after doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center said that bleeding around the baby's eyes was evidence that he had been shaken or dropped repeatedly. The mother had taken the infant to Vanderbilt when he appeared lethargic. Doctors examined him and determined it was a case of possible child abuse. They referred the case to the Tennessee Department of Human Services, which placed him in a foster home.
In February 1995 Cheryl Bryant-Bruce, herself a physician, took her son from a state-sponsored foster-care facility in Nashville and rushed him to Emory University's Egleston Children's Hospital in Atlanta for an independent evaluation. Doctors there determined his complications were from the disorder.
Bryant-Bruce was arrested on a criminal charge of custodial interference, and the boy was temporarily brought back to a DHS-approved foster home here two weeks later under court order. But the criminal charge was dropped when a Davidson County grand jury refused to indict the mother. A Montgomery County judge ordered Gregory returned to his parents in June 1995.
The Bryant-Bruces filed a lawsuit against Vanderbilt, seeking $75 million. The couple said Vanderbilt doctors misdiagnosed their son's internal bleeding as child abuse and that DHS used the diagnosis to keep the child away from them for almost 18 months, despite medical proof that the bleeding was from the rare disorder.
A settlement was reached. Vanderbilt never admitted wrongdoing but agreed to put $100,000 into a medical care trust fund for the child, who was born eight weeks prematurely and with multiple medical problems at an Ohio military hospital.
In a brief statement released yesterday, Vanderbilt officials said, ''We are very sorry for the Bryant-Bruce family's loss.'' The child's father could not be reached for comment. Gregory is survived by his parents; his grandparents, Thelma and Curtis Bryant Sr.; a brother, Christopher, 14; and a sister, Dominique, 17. A public memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. John's Baptist Church, 1050 Bay Road, East Palo Alto, Calif. Private interment will be at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery, 32053 West McCabe Road, Gustine, Calif.
The family has requested that instead of flowers, donations be sent to the Gregory Center, founded, directed and operated by Cheryl Bryant-Bruce as a resource and service center for children with disabilities. The Web site is www.gregorycenter.org.