'Life of Riley' is challenge

By Keith Brenton
May 2, 2003

"Living the life of Riley" is a phrase that has a whole different meaning in our household.

That’s because Riley, born Jan. 15, 1999, is an extraordinary kid with a family to match, and my family counts it a privilege to count them among our friends.

Riley has an infectious smile and a (generally) sweet disposition. He’s a character who loves to play and tease and be teased. In short, he’s a lot like any number of kids you could name.

What’s different about Riley is that he gets around in a wheelchair. He speaks through American Sign Language. He has a number of food allergies and has full use of one hand, but only partial use of the other.

At two weeks of age, Riley — a beautiful, perfect baby — had an inexplicable episode of bleeding in his brain. It nearly took his life. It did take away a lot of his developmental abilities.

And it did something to his family that no one could have anticipated or imagined.

Friends with hearts full of prayers poured into the hospital waiting room that night and in the days to follow. In the weeks and months afterward, their support never waned.

His dad, Robert, started calling them "Riley’s Warriors."

To be sure, Riley is blessed with the luck of the Irish. He has therapists and teachers at Easter Seals who help him retrain his damaged brain to use his legs and arm. He has friends and relatives who are learning with him to communicate through ASL.

He has a house with a driveway that crescents right up past the front door for easy wheelchair access. He has two older sisters and a younger brother who adore him. He has a mom who is a nurse. He has a dad with a vision.

Last year, Riley rolled through annual Easter Seals run-and-walkathon in his Arkansas hometown with all of his Warriors in tow. This year, he is the state’s Easter Seals Child Representative, and Riley’s Warriors are the primary sponsor for the race.

His dad had the crazy idea they could be a minor supporting sponsor, and mentioned it to one of the original Warriors.

"How much would it cost to be the primary sponsor?" asked his friend, a city councilman with experience in raising funds.

"Well, $10,000," Robert replied.

"Tell them to put us down as next year’s primary sponsor."

To date, they have raised $16,000. By the time of the race in August, they’ll have "Riley’s Warriors" T-shirts for the volunteers, and hopefully — for all the race participants — a sponsor’s gift that will be a children’s book about the life of Riley, written by his sisters, 8-year-old Kylie and 6-year-old Kathleen. And the volunteer army of "Riley’s Warriors" — now more than 50-strong — will also host a reception after the race for the families of Easter Seals kids.

These days, the life of Riley includes banquets and television appearances as well as physical therapy and playtime, and a lot of the focus of it is to help other children be comfortable around kids who are different from themselves.

It’s a good life.

Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 10, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain ReporterNews.com and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at brentonk@reporternews.com

You can learn more about Riley’s Warriors on the Web at http://www.rileyswarriors.org/

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