It's not the party his family had planned.

Balloons aren't allowed in the hospital's intensive care unit, and only a small group of friends and family will be at his side because the risk of infection to an "open wound the size of a dinner plate" is still so high.

But as Bridger Hunt turns 12 today, friends and family say there is still every reason to celebrate.

"We weren't sure he was going to make it," said Debi Richan, the Orem boy's great-aunt. "He's doing much better. We're so excited. We're celebrating everything."

Doctors upgraded Bridger's medical condition to serious Thursday, after they successfully removed the ventilator he's relied on to help him breathe since he was hospitalized by a homemade fireworks explosion July 24. Bridger was riding a bike through his grandfather's Lehi neighborhood when the blast went off. The shrapnel nearly severed his left leg.

"He seems more coherent and awake," said Primary Children's Medical Center spokeswoman Bonnie Midget. "Previously, when they tried to remove the ventilator, he got worked up — very agitated — and they had to re-sedate him. But not this time. He's doing very well."

After spending weeks in a drug-induced coma, Bridger has been able to communicate with family members. Wednesday night, he wrote a note asking for orange juice, Richan said.

Later, he enjoyed a popsicle and asked for a "soda machine" for his birthday.

"He seems to be very focused on drinking," Richan said. "Being on the ventilator made his mouth very dry, and he thought he would die from lack of water. He seems to be trying to drink everything in sight now."

Midget said Bridger continues to fight infection and has been back in the operating room a couple of times to clean it out. Although they haven't been able to grow a culture of the infection, it seems to be improving.


E-mail: afalk@desnews.com; lois@desnews.com