Southern California hospital faces backlash after banning T-shirt made to support cancer patient

Close-up of design of T-shirt designed to raise money for cancer patient Brett Byler, Escondido, California, July 2020 | Photo courtesy of Jim Byler, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — An Iron County couple whose adult son is battling brain cancer in California says the fundraising T-shirts that were made in his behalf were banned by the hospital where he has been receiving treatment.

Jim and Cynthia Byler reside in Cedar Highlands, where Jim Byler served as mayor until the town’s residents voted to formally disincorporate in May. Lately, the Bylers have been in Southern California supporting their son Brett, who has been undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido.

Brett Byler, a former Marine, has been a police officer since 2009 and currently works for the Escondido Police Department. He and his wife, Mariah, have three young daughters, ages 6, 4 and 1.

The black T-shirts in question depict a silhouetted family against a backdrop of a black and white U.S. flag, with red, blue and white vertical stripes representing fire, police and emergency medical personnel.

The caption reads in capital letters, “In this family, no one fights alone.” The back of the T-shirt simply has a row of white lettering with the hashtag #Bylerstrong. The shirts, which were initially sold at the hospital, are available for sale for $30 through the Byler family’s GoFundMe page.

Front design of T-shirt designed to raise money for cancer patient Brett Byler, Escondido, California, July 2020 | Photo courtesy of Jim Byler, St. George News / Cedar City News

According to a four-minute KUSI television news segment reported by Hunter Sowards, hospital staff were recently directed by administration to stop wearing the shirts, with the email citing complaints received from patrons and staff.

Although the hospital sent a statement to Cedar City News citing a “dress code,” Jim Byler said hospital staffers have told him such a move was unprecedented.

“Numerous hospital personnel have stated they wear all kinds of shirts, including fundraising shirts,” Byler told Cedar City News. “Our shirt is the only one ever banned.”

T-shirt designer Angel Masciovecchio, who works as an ER nurse, told KUSI the shirt’s design was simply to pay tribute to police, fire and emergency medical personnel.

“There was never any political agenda put into the shirt whatsoever,” she said during the television interview.

Jim Byler told Cedar City News that San Diego media picked up on the story, and it went nationwide “in a matter of hours.”

“We have been overwhelmed with the response, including thousands of requests for the T-shirt.”

He said the total amount raised on the GoFundMe page has gone up by more than $30,000 since the story broke Friday night. The total amount raised now stands at more than $114,000. 

Brett Byler family photo that was used for T-shirt design. Photo taken near Cedar City, Utah, date not specified. | Photo courtesy of Jim Byler, St. George News / Cedar City News

“Unfortunately, the hospital is really taking a lot of heat,” he added. “Not really our intent, but we had to stand up for the shirt. I contacted the hospital before it broke to discuss, but nobody called me back until the media was all over it, and then they went into damage control.”

Byler said he did later speak with top officials from the hospital.

“The CEO apologized for not knowing I tried to reach out to them to discuss the shirt,” he said. ”I told her I wanted any stigma attached to the shirt by the hospital removed, but beyond that, they had to figure out how to undo the damage that they caused.”

Palomar Health issued the following written statement via email Monday in response to a Cedar City News request for comment:

Supporting the Byler family during this time is our priority. We fully support the purpose of the shirt, our law enforcement partners and especially Brett and his family. It was never our intent to hurt a fellow law enforcement officer by upholding our dress code. We stand for unity, respect and compassion and are devastated that this situation has been mischaracterized into something it was not intended to be.

We have been in contact with the family and are committed to helping in any way we can. We acknowledge the attention this situation has gained and we hope it will result in a very beautiful family receiving love, support and donations.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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