Child smiling with Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital member and dog

News, Child Health

Seacrest Studios Fills Young Heart Transplant Patient’s Hospital Stay with Friends and Fun

During his 122-day hospital stay, while he awaited a heart transplant, Theo Tyler found hope, fun and friendship at Seacrest Studios inside Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital.

In late summer 2023, as Theo Tyler’s friends headed back to school, the then-7-year-old was admitted to Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital as he awaited a heart transplant. Over the course of his 122-day hospital stay, Theo’s bright spirit quickly earned him a lot of friends, including the team in Seacrest Studios, located on the first floor of the hospital.

Finding friends and fun at Seacrest Studios

Made possible by The Ryan Seacrest Foundation, the studio inside Levine Children’s Hospital opened in 2013 and is one of less than 20 in the United States. This broadcast media center gives pediatric patients the opportunity to explore different forms of media through interactive programs at children’s hospitals.

The Seacrest Studios team at Levine Children’s Hospital first invited Theo to co-host a game of Bingo.

“He had a blast getting to interact with DJ Becca Boo, DJ HD, [facility dog] Sprout, peers in the studio and other patients who were watching the broadcast from their rooms,” says Theo’s mom, Tiphanie. 

The next day, Theo immediately wanted to return to the studio and it soon became an integral part of his hospital stay.

Upon his most recent admission, Theo quickly became a part of the Seacrest Studios team,” says Becca Wagner, business operations manager at Seacrest Studios, Arts for Life and music therapy at Levine Children’s Hospital. “From interviewing celebrities to engaging in our daily programming, he is a staple. Not only does he enhance our programming, but he enhances our lives. His bright smile and kind disposition make each day more fun and exciting.”

The Seacrest Studios staff went out of their way to brighten Theo’s spirits, inviting him to decorate the studio for Halloween and dressing up as 100-year-olds to honor his 100th day in the hospital.

“Theo was missing his friends from school and home,” says Tiphanie. “Seacrest Studios took away the sadness of that — it was a fun, upbeat place he could go. Every time the studio had something to do, he would be present to join in. When Theo was sad, he would go to Seacrest Studios to see his friends. No matter how busy the studio was, he was always welcome, even if it was just long enough to love on Sprout.”

As a Levine Children’s Hospital facility dog, Sprout is specially trained to work within a professional, medical or clinical setting. At Seacrest Studios, Sprout promotes a sense of normalcy within the hospital environment. He hosts shows like “Chef Sprout’s Kitchen,” which teaches children about healthy cooking, and “Puppy Power Hour,” which are open office hours for patients to visit Sprout.

“We like to call Seacrest Studios the ‘living room’ of the hospital,” says Wagner. “It is a warm and cozy place where you can watch or engage on TV, and we even have a dog!”

Wagner — also known as DJ Becca Boo at the studio — says children like Theo are why she and her team love their jobs.

“We are committed to providing engaging, entertaining and therapeutic programming,” she says. “Theo’s joy sparked such creativity in our hearts, and we feel so lucky to have worked with such a remarkable patient and family.”

Theo’s heart transplant journey

“Theo needed a heart transplant because he had a failing hypoplastic heart,” says Dr. Gonzalo Wallis, interim chief of cardiology for Atrium Health Levine Children's in the greater Charlotte region. 

Waiting for an organ to become available, especially for a child, can be a rather long process - in some cases taking up to several months.

“The day we got the call that Theo had a heart, Seacrest Studios was the first place he wanted to go,” says Tiphanie. “He needed to share his news with them.”

The studio had become Theo’s safe space during his hospital stay.

“On the day of his transplant, he was only willing to discuss his feelings and fears around this procedure once he was in the studio space with Sprout,” says Wagner. “It really showed the impact of having another space outside of his physical hospital room that promoted a sense of comfort and safety. We were honored to provide that space and that safety.”

Thankfully, Theo’s heart transplant surgery and recovery went remarkably well.

“Theo is a trooper,” says Dr. Wallis.

Seacrest Studios holds a special place in Theo’s heart

As for Theo’s prognosis, Wallis says, “The sky is the limit!” 

Wallis says Seacrest Studios and other hospital activities are essential for pediatric patients’ well-being.

“From my standpoint, programs like what happens in Seacrest Studios help us make an abnormal situation — like living in the hospital for an extended period of time — livable, an opportunity for patients to be kids and a safe haven in the hospital,” he says. 

Now that Theo has recovered from his heart transplant, he still visits Seacrest Studios every time he has a follow-up appointment.

“Theo truly has changed our lives and we are so grateful to our medical staff here at Levine Children’s for giving him the chance to thrive and be the best version of himself,” says Wagner. “Theo will impact the world in a profound way. We know this because he has already impacted all of us here at Levine Children’s.”

Learn more about Seacrest Studios at Levine Children’s Hospital.