It took six years, political pressure, and an online petition signed by 80,000 in a matter of days.
But Thursday, Key Bank finally forgave the student loan for a Marlton student who died from a traumatic brain injury in 2006.
"They said, 'Effective immediately the remaining balance is forgiven,' " said Ryan Bryski, whose brother Christopher died after a fall. In a phone call Wednesday evening, an employee from Key Bank told the Bryskis, "We don't want to put you through any more undue hardship," Ryan said.
"It's been kind of surreal," he said. "We can't even believe it."
Since 2006, the Bryski family had made payments on the son's remaining $50,000 student loan. Christopher Bryski, 23, who attended Rutgers University, fell from a tree in June 2004, suffering a severe brain injury that led to his death two years later.
Although the federal government and some private lenders forgive loans if a student dies, Key Bank required Bryski's father, Joseph, who cosigned the loan, to pay it off.
The plight of the Bryski family inspired legislation backed by Rep. Jon Runyan (R., N.J.) and his Democratic predecessor, John Adler, who lost to Runyan in 2010. But the legislation hasn't made it out of committee. A similar bill sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) has similarly been stalled.
Last Friday, Ryan Bryski, 34, an Air Force veteran and emergency manager, listed a petition on change.org, a website that New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof in February called the "go-to site for Web uprisings," where people can threaten large companies with "the online equivalent of a tarring and feathering." Change.org reached out to the Bryskis after reading news accounts.
The Bryski petition called on Key Bank to forgive the loan. Change.org used its listserv to drive thousands of people to the petition. Each time someone signed it, four executives from Key Bank were notified by e-mail, Ryan Bryski said.
"By Monday, we had 60,000 or 70,000," Ryan Bryski said.
Key Bank began calling Tuesday, and by Thursday the family received written notice that it no longer had to pay, he said.
Lynne Woodman, a spokeswoman for Key Bank, confirmed that the bank was reviewing its policies on how to handle similar situations.
"Key Bank is changing the manner in which it will handle, God forbid, that this should ever happen to anyone again, that a student dies with student loans outstanding," she said. "We will look at these things on a case-by-case basis."
Runyan said that he was happy to hear that the bank did the "decent" thing but that he would still try to get the bill named for Bryski passed into law.
"It is important that we pass this legislation so that families and students alike are fully aware of their responsibilities should the unthinkable happen," he said in a statement.