Music instrumental in teen's recovery after fall from three-story window

Melissa Varner
May 22, 2024
Brendan standing next to a vintage red and white car.
Brendan loves cars.

Shannon Bullard was at work when she got a frantic call: Her 13-year-old son Brendan had fallen from a third story window at their home on Johns Island. He landed on their concrete driveway, where his sister found him and called 911.

"She was screaming and crying, and I could hear Brendan in the background and tell he was in pain," Shannon said. As soon as the EMTs told her they were taking him ‘straight to Shawn Jenkins,' she was on her way.

"I flew through West Ashley, so I beat them there," she said. She remembers running through the automated doors on the ground floor of the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital, past the radio stations broadcasting live for the 2023 Cares for Kids Radiothon.

She says the staff member at the front desk tried to help her stay calm while she waited for Brendan. Then, she turned, and through the hospital's panoramic windows, she saw an ambulance, flanked by police cars, racing over the James Island Connector.

"Right then I knew," she said, sniffling. "It was really, really bad."

So bad, that when Brendan was wheeled into the trauma bay, she says she didn't recognize him until he said her name.

The fall broke Brendan's back, both feet and his wrist. It also injured his brain. Shannon rode the elevator with him to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), where pediatric trauma experts took over, working on him for the next six hours.

As South Carolina's first and only Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center, the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital is uniquely qualified to provide the highest level of emergency care to children across South Carolina and the region. The designation means MUSC is staffed 24/7 by specialists including pediatric trauma surgeons, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, emergency medicine providers, anesthesiologists, child abuse treatment experts and intensive care unit providers.

"When we finally got to see him at 10:30 that night, he was hooked up to a ventilator," Shannon said. "Every machine you can imagine was beeping. It was not a sight I ever want to see my child in again."

An image of a child in a hospital bed receiving intravenous therapy. 
Brendan in the hospital after the accident.

While he was on the ventilator, a nurse asked Shannon whether Brendan had a favorite song. "Memory Lane" by Old Dominion, she told him.

"He pulled it up on YouTube. And as the song came on ("If I could buy a house on Memory Lane, I'd put my money down and I'd sign my name … "), Brendan's fingers started moving and his numbers started coming down. We knew right then that music was going to be huge for him."

Brendan came off the ventilator after five days. "They warned us it could take a long time for him to talk if he was going to talk again," she said. "He talked within the hour."

While he continued to recover in the hospital, Brendan was offered creative arts therapy with the Arts in Healing team. Creative arts therapists are board-certified mental health professionals who encourage patients and their families to explore and express their thoughts, feelings and experiences through art, music and/or movement.

Brendan chose music therapy, which may include singing, playing an instrument or listening to music. Shannon says his therapist, Angie Burdine, MT-BC, NICU-MT, had heard Brendan's story and learned to play "Memory Lane" just for him.

"I give her a lot of credit for Brendan's healing," Shannon said. "Through music therapy, he was able to truly dig down and heal."

The vital mental health services provided by the Arts in Healing team are offered at no cost to hospitalized MUSC patients and their families, as well as to local schools and other community-based organizations. Donations cover everything from the salaries of art and music therapists to art supplies and musical instruments.

That's just one of the many reasons why the Bullard family said yes when asked to be part of the 2024 Cares for Kids Radiothon, which raises money for the children's hospital. Nearly a year to the day since his accident, Brendan returned to MUSC to share his story and how he's doing now.

Members of the country band “Old Dominion” stand in front of a sign that reads "Old Dominion," smiling and posing for a photo with Brendan and his family. 
Brendan and his family got to go backstage and meet the members of Old Dominion before one of their concerts in Savannah, Georgia.

Brendan, now 15, started West Ashley High School last fall. His mom says he still gets headaches and struggles with memory loss but is otherwise doing great.

"For our family, MUSC meant a second chance," Shannon said. "It meant being able to get back a part of my child that I was afraid was lost."