From the doctor's tone of voice, Brenda Eidenshink knew she was about to receive major news about her very sick 10-year-old.
She had just opened her laptop to watch a movie after dropping off her son Brayden in the hospital's playroom. It couldn't have been bad news, she told herself, but why was the doctor insisting they move to a conference room?
"What is it?" she asked, demanding the news right then and there.
"We have a heart," the doctor told her.
It was the moment she and her family — and much of Bakersfield — had been waiting for for almost five years. Brayden had been in and out of hospitals for much of that time, waiting for a heart transplant that might save his life. The new heart had to be a perfect match, otherwise his body would reject it.
"I just kept asking, 'Are you serious? Are you sure?'" she said.
That was Wednesday. On Thursday, surgeons at Stanford University in Palo Alto replaced Brayden's failing heart with a new one harvested from an unidentified donor.
It's still too early to say how Brayden's body will react to the transplant, but Brenda said all indications were good as of late Friday afternoon.
"He's doing exactly what they predicted he would be doing," she said, adding that her son had not yet awakened from a drug administered to keep him from moving around in ways that might strain the fragile balance between his lungs and his new heart.
Back in Bakersfield, Brayden has become something of a celebrity. Many people monitor Brenda's Facebook page ("Brayden's Brave Heart") for medical updates. A multitude of fundraisers help the family — Brenda, her husband and their three children, including Brayden's 19-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother — cover insurance co-payments, travel and lodging expenses.
It's what many say is special about Bakersfield: the generosity that arises when a member of the community is in need.
"Bakersfield is just amazing," Brenda said. "There's so many people out there that help us."
This spirit of community support was on full display Thursday, the day of the transplant. The principal at Brayden's school, Buena Vista Elementary's Daniel Hansford, organized a campaign in which people were urged to wear red in the boy's honor.
The outpouring surprised even Hansford. He was attending his son's baseball scrimmage Thursday night when he was approached by a girl he'd never met and who didn't attend his school.
"She came up to me and said, 'Are you wearing red for Brayden?'" he said.
For all the support, Brayden's medical condition has been hard on him and his staff. Everyone is anxious for an update, he said, and the communal anxiety has drawn people together.
"For the majority of my staff, they've kind of watched a tough, tough young man kind of go through it day by day and just try to survive," Hansford said.
Shows of support arrive to Brayden's hospital room through the Eidenshinks' family and friends in Bakersfield, where the couple was born and raised.
Another outgrowth of Brayden's struggle has been growing awareness of organ donations. Until her son's need for a new heart became clear, she had little understanding of what families awaiting a transplant go through. But now she's actively promotes tissue donor registration.
"Brenda has played a critical role (as a tissue donor ambassador), going to hospitals, speaking with nurses, going to high schools, talking about her son waiting for more than four years," said Kathy Vochoska, Kern County ambassador for OneLegacy, a nonprofit that promotes live-saving tissue donations.
"That was (Brayden's) only, only chance for living, was a transplant. So I’m just super-thrilled he received his gift of life," Vochoska added.
Brenda said she was optimistic her other two children will be able to return to Bakersfield this weekend after spending a lot of time with their brother in the hospital. And if all goes well, Brayden will be coming home in the middle of January.
Looking forward, she cultivates the most basic of hopes, the ones most parents take for granted. Brenda wants to see Brayden do things most kids his age do but e's never been able to do: ride a bicycle, play tag, jump on a trampoline, learn to swim. Eat with utensils instead of a tube.
"I want to see him run. I want to see him eat. I want to see him laugh without belly pains," she said, her voice breaking with emotion.
Finally, she said, these hopes may be within reach because of the transplant.
"I think we might be able to make it," she said. "I'm excited to see the difference. … It's exciting. Scary. Overwhelming. But it's worth it."