A sledding accident has left Van Alstyne High School junior Riley Sprowl with a spinal cord injury and a community full of thoughts and prayers pulling for him.
While sledding behind a four-wheeler on the morning of Dec. 11 Sprowl was flung off and hit a metal fence post. He was transported to Parkland Hospital in Dallas where it was discovered he had suffered a devastating spinal cord injury and, consequently, paralysis below the shoulders.
The going has been tough for Riley and his family. He has made it through surgery to stabilize the injury but has been battling since, first with a drop in heart rate for which the doctors could not find an explanation and then fever and secretions in his lungs making breathing problematic. Doctors fitted Riley with an external pacemaker as a precaution against another heart episode (there has not been another) and inserted a tube to help him breathe. The probability of Riley needing a tracheotomy at this point is high.
Still, he continues to fight.
A Facebook page (Pray for Riley) and a website (www.prayforriley.com) offer constant updates and outside glimpses into the life of Riley from day to day. Unable to talk and hooked up to machines, Riley is constantly trying hard to pass his breathing test and getting frustrated until he does pass it. A baseball and football player, Riley is accustomed to working hard to succeed, a trait which will serve him well in the months to come.
The outpouring of support from Van Alstyne and the surrounding communities has been phenomenal. Messages of love and support have poured in from all corners of the area, from a Texoma youth fourth grade football team to athletes and cheerleaders down the road in Anna. Volleyball players in Leonard posted their best wishes, and according to close family friend Jeff Burge (see sidebar) people as far away as Kenya are praying for the young man.
All this comes as no surprise to those who know Riley.
"He’s just the greatest kid," said VAISD Superintendent Dr. John Spies. "He is a smart and determined young man that puts his faith in God. One way or another he will change peoples lives in the future. We are all praying for him."
"He’s one of the All-American kids," said VAHS Athletic Director Mikeal Miller. "As a father to a son, you would point to Riley and want your son to have the same qualities.
"And I know Riley’s going to fight during this time."
Riley has been moved from his surgery bed to a constant motion bed to prevent bed sores. He is not able to see visitors in his room, though they are welcome to come by the hospital waiting area. But he is surrounded by cards and pictures from kids at Van Alstyne Elementary School to whom he visited and read books and by his parents constantly.
An account has been opened at Independent Bank to help out with the significant costs to the family. Checks should be made payable to either Karla Sprowl or Jason Sprowl and the contribution will be deposited into Riley’s benefit account. Checks can be mailed to Independent Bank at P. O. Box 921, Van Alstyne, Texas 75495. In the memo those donating are asked to write in "Riley Sprowl’s Benefit Acct."
In addition, Star Duncan at Head to Toe has a Christmas tree started for the family to help them out while they are at the hospital. Those interested can drop off gas cards, gift cards, fast food cards, Starbuck’s cards, that type of thing, and the items will get to the Sprowls.
There will also be a "Pray for Riley" t-shirt and bracelet sale in front of the First Baptist Church Van Alstyne Family Life Center on Saturday, Dec. 21, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Proceeds from the sale will go directly to Riley’s fund at Independent Bank. First Baptist Church is located at 121 E. Marshall St.
For more information on Riley visit his new website, www.prayforriley.com, or at https://www.facebook.com/pray4riley.
A Letter from a Family Friend:
The enormity of this tragic accident is difficult to comprehend. Our hearts ache for Riley Joe and his family and our natural inclination is to question how and why something like this could happen. As I witness Riley’s battle firsthand, I’m repeatedly reminded why our family fell in love with this kid so many years ago.
His faith and compassionate spirit were the first to shine through. Immediately following the accident, Riley was reassuring his mother that God had a plan and would work through this. His first concern was not for himself, but for his parents and sister, Sydney. As first responders worked frantically to get him to Parkland, he remained calm and focused.
Following surgery and into recovery, I recognized the same determination and energy that made Riley a giant on the football field and baseball diamond. His competitive nature shines through as he endures each test and challenge the ICU staff throw at him. He is focused on succeeding!
Riley’s kind spirit and charm are infectious and people are naturally drawn to him and, consequently, his story. This is evident by the overwhelming outpouring of love and support from all over the world (I received word this morning there were folks in Kenya praying for him!)
My family recognizes how incredibly blessed we are to have Riley Joe in our lives and we thank God for him and his family. It’s no secret the road ahead of them will be extremely long and difficult. Amidst all the uncertainty, a few truths are already evident. Riley is not alone in this. He has touched and impacted countless lives…and will continue to do so. He is a fighter and will meet each challenge head on. Finally, and most importantly, his God is in control and will work through this.
- Jeff and Stephanie Burge