CEDAR RAPIDS — Eli’s doing OK. That’s the main thing.
This kid, he’s a fighter. You have no idea.
The 10-year-old son of Cedar Rapids Prairie sophomore boys’ basketball coach Wes Bruns and his wife, Holly, has been through so, so much. He and twin sister, Anna, were born prematurely at 25 weeks and spent the first 117 days of their lives in the hospital.
Eli Bruns has severe cerebral palsy, cannot walk or talk and has impaired vision. He is confined to a wheelchair.
Eli has gone through multiple surgeries in his young life, including this past fall when he had a procedure done on his spine, his tonsils taken out and part of the back of his tongue removed, all in an effort to help his respiratory system.
“He loves school,” Wes Bruns said, referring to a special-education program his son is part of at Cedar Rapids Prairie. “He’s very social, really enjoys it.”
And, as you can tell, he’s the very definition of being an at-risk person when it comes to the coronavirus.
“Any type of sickness, he gets it,” Wes Bruns said. “And when he gets it, it just explodes on him. He reacts much differently to everything. Our common cold is dreadful for him. We are always watching that.”
Imagine being Wes and Holly Bruns right now. They have three daughters to take care of (Anna, 15-year-old Allie and 12-year-old Grace).
Then there’s Eli.
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“For the most part, we’ve always had to be restricted when people are here or not here because of him,” Holly Bruns said. “Honestly, our home life right now is probably not drastically different than it typically would be. Just because no one is coming here, obviously, (because of) the fear. He has a compromised immune system, so with that, he is so susceptible to everything. So we are just kind of like ‘No one come to us.’”
Frequent hand washing, social distancing, self quarantines, the Bruns family knew about that stuff a long time ago. They are trying not to panic about this pandemic, trying to keep as informed as they possibly can, listening closely to Eli’s pediatrician.
But, whether they show it outwardly or not, this has got to be extremely difficult.
“This coronavirus has us a little more ...,” Holly Bruns said, pausing. “Maybe I’m more on a heightened anxiety level than Wes. I think everybody has someone in their life who is somewhat more compromised with this new virus out there. With Eli, it’s super unsafe.”
“My wife is probably more concerned than I am,” Wes Bruns said. “I try and be an optimistic person in my life, with what I’ve dealt with. I think that helps me. To me, it’s so much easier to fall on the negative side. Whatever aspect it is, I try and be positive.”
Wes Bruns is one of the nicest people you ever will meet. It’s an amazing trait for anyone, especially someone who has dealt with as much tragedy.
Bruns’ father, Laverne, died unexpectedly from complications of a blood clot when Wes was a senior at Prairie. Laverne Bruns won nearly 500 games as a high school basketball coach, instilled a love of the game in his son that led Wes to play in college and become a coach himself.
Wes Bruns has been a head varsity coach at Cedar Rapids LaSalle, Cedar Rapids Xavier and Mount Vernon and was a head sophomore coach at Cedar Rapids Jefferson before jumping over to Prairie.
Bruns’ mother, Sharon, eventually remarried but unfathomable tragedy struck again in 1992 when a wood-burning stove caused carbon monoxide to build in the family’s home in northern Missouri, killing Sharon and her husband and Wes’ brothers Al and Dennis. This was Christmas night, while everyone was sleeping.
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Somehow Wes Bruns, who also was in the house, survived, though he had to learn how to walk and talk again, among other things. He has no recollection of that entire evening.
“The Lord gives us what we can handle. You make the best of it,” Wes said, in a 2014 Gazette story. “I always knew that if I ever played it as woe is me, my mom, my dad, my brothers would kick me in the butt. They’d say ‘Get your butt up and do something.’ That’s how I was raised, I don’t know any better.
“Everyone has struggles in life, it’s how you deal with them. You’ve got to have a good frame of mind.”
Which is why Wes is trying not to worry too much about coronavirus. He has been doing a lot of online basketball coaching seminars over the last week to stay sharp and learn.
The family has rarely left the house, which, as you imagine, has been challenging with four children.
“We’re just trying to stay busy closed in,” Holly Bruns said. “This definitely makes you even more aware on the cautious side. Eli is non-mobile, non-verbal, he’s visually impaired.
“We have to make sure we do everything physically for him to keep him healthy.”
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