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Karen Brooks-Lyons, principal of Cheyenne’s Henderson Elementary School, becomes emotional during the unveiling of a dedicated bench honoring the memory of Caydence Brannaman, who was a poster child for organ donation but died earlier this year, at Cheyenne’s Henderson Elementary School on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, in Cheyenne. The donated bench overlooks the playground at the school and is inscribed with Caydence’s signature. Jacob Byk/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – The family of a double-lung transplant recipient who passed away earlier this year honored her memory at Cheyenne’s Henderson Elementary on Friday.

Caydence “Cayde” Brannaman, 11-year-old regional advocate and poster child for Donate Life America, lost her battle with a heart condition earlier this year, and her family donated a scarlet “Love Cayde” bench to her former elementary school in remembrance.

“Little hands and a loving heart, sprinkled glitter and hope and changed the world. Love Cayde,” the inscription reads. “Where strangers can sit and become friends and friends can become family. A bench made with love, so you’re never alone.”

Patricia Schutte, Cayde’s grandmother, said the idea of using benches in memoriam came from advice she once gave her granddaughter on a difficult day.

“One day, Cayde was feeling a little down, and I saw her sitting in the middle of a bench,” she said. “I went over and sat to her left and said, ‘Cayde, we’re never alone. When you sit down on a bench, a stranger can become a friend, and a friend can become part of your family.’”

Afterward, Cayde began sitting next to others alone on benches.

Schutte hopes the bench, placed in Henderson’s playground, will serve as a reminder of Cayde’s spirit and a thank you to the students who normalized her life.

“You are always with her, and you made such a remarkable difference in her life,” Schutte told Henderson students during the dedication ceremony. “I’m so proud of you, the teachers and the staff here because we gave you the impossible and you let her shine.”

Doctors found a small hole in Cayde’s heart when she was born. She was diagnosed with pulmonary vein stenosis, which meant the veins from her heart to one lung were not formed properly. Because of this, she needed a lung transplant fast – her left lung stopped growing, and her right lung was slowing down.

Cayde got her new lungs in 2013 at 6 years old, but five years later, those lungs failed. She passed away this summer.

The family’s ultimate goal is to donate similar benches, which cost roughly $2,000, to Ronald McDonald Houses. They’re made by Superior Laser Cutting in Utah.

“Right now, we have a second bench going to the Donor Alliance in Colorado, and we’ll have some going to Texas,” Schutte said. “Wooden benches get rickety, and Cayde would always want to buy the Ronald McDonald House a new bench.”

Henderson Elementary Principal Karen Brooks-Lyons said she was nervous when Cayde first came to Henderson. She wasn’t sure what to expect given her medical history and special needs.

“When this little girl came in, she had so much spunk,” Brooks-Lyons said. “I’m thinking, ‘Did they give me the right information?’ Because everything they were telling me was not what I was seeing. She was happy, excited and just wanted to be in school.”

She said having Cayde as a student was a privilege, and the family said her life wouldn’t have been the same without the school.

“School came with some challenges,” Schutte said. “Cayde had to wear a mask, which she wasn’t always great at. But the school was wonderful at reminding her. She had a lot of medical challenges, but the school just adapted and, as they say, it takes a village to raise a child.”

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