Melissa Walsh

Farms girl models ‘super’ in courage, joy

Grosse Pointe News | May 3rd, 2018 | Pointer of Interest

Riley 1a

Pointer of Interest: Farms girl models ‘super’ in courage, joy By Melissa Walsh | on May 03, 2018

People think of superheroes wearing capes. Riley Slattery is super for the smile she wears.

“She’s an awesome little girl. She’s gone through more than a lot of us will go through in a lifetime,” said Stephen Puckett, recently retired Farms public safety officer.

“I met (Officer Puckett) at Safety Town,” said the 7-year-old Farms resident and student at Monteith Elementary School. “We were talking about how to keep safe when you’re riding your bike. I told him I was going to have surgery on Halloween.”

The Friday before Halloween 2016, Riley’s last day of school before the first of a series of surgeries on her leg, her neighborhood hosted trick-or-treating early so she could participate.

Farms public safety officers brought the fun “trick,” surprising Riley and her schoolmates and neighbors with a lights-and-sirens parade.

“Officer Puckett called and said, ‘Hey, can I pick Riley up from school?’” explained Riley’s mom, Heidi Slattery. “And I thought, ‘That will be fun. Sure.’ He showed up with a fire truck, a bunch of police cars, Duke and Officer (Tim) Harris.”

“It was really loud,” Riley recalled.

“That was the first time I met Duke,” she added.

The pair have remained friends ever since, sporting matching super friends costumes Halloween 2017 and trick-or-treating together.

“I was wearing a batgirl costume and Duke came over with a batboy costume,” she said.

Riley was born with mesomelic dwarfism. Her right arm, hand, leg, foot, and kidney are smaller than those on her left side. Doctors began procedures to straighten and facilitate growth of her right leg when she was still a baby.

Heidi posted on the Team Super Riley Facebook page, “When Riley was a week old, I remember sitting in a doctor’s appointment and the doctor said, ‘She is not going to live long … enjoy her … enjoy all of her … she won’t talk or walk or go to school.’”

Oct. 31, 2016, surgeons cut Riley’s tibia and fibula and installed rods on either side of the broken bones to attach to an external fixator — applied four times a day to lengthen her leg 1/4 millimeter. The goal to facilitate 4 to 5 centimeters of growth was achieved. Doctors also injected botox into Riley’s muscles for elasticity as her bones lengthened. Following surgery Riley was in a wheelchair several months.

“The odds have always been against our girl and she seems to take those odds and crush them,” Heidi wrote.

After undergoing two rounds of 40 sessions of hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy, Riley earned a diving patch from the Farms Public Safety Dive Team. Experiencing the pressure of 2.6 atmospheres below the surface, the treatments are like diving underwater. The chamber’s pressure and the pure oxygen fed into it advances healing in the body.

“We used it a lot after leg surgeries, because her bone was not growing back,” Heidi said. “So we used that to heal the bone and the bone actually did then grow. And obviously it’s solid now.”

Riley underwent the treatments, costing $6,800 a round and not covered by insurance, Monday through Friday.

“I just get bored in there, because I’m just laying there and watching something,” Riley said, unless Duke and handler Harris kept her company.

“(Officer Harris) told me jokes,” she added.

When Riley said, “I want you to tell me jokes,” Harris said he thought, “Do I have 90 minutes worth of jokes?”

“(Riley) was in there for an hour and a half and Officer Harris stood there and told her jokes the entire time,” Heidi said.

In addition to the challenges with Riley’s leg growth, doctors found a tumor in her brain in 2015.

“We were watching it because it was in a really difficult location to reach,” Heidi said. “The risks outweighed the benefits. So then finally in February — her last scan — it had just gotten too big.”

In a risky surgical procedure April 2 — Riley’s 24th surgery — the tumor near the brain stem was removed.

“It was a mass of skin that got placed in the wrong place when she was in utero,” Heidi explained. “So it’s gone. And that is great. They said no more treatment for that. Just keep an eye on things.”

“They put a scar behind my ear,” Riley said. “They made my scar look like an ‘s’ for Team Super Riley. And I like it because it’s also an ‘s’ for sloth.’”

Riley’s favorite animal is the sloth.

“They are slow movers and I like them,” she said holding Sylvester, one of her three toy sloths.

Watching all episodes of Baby Animals in the Wild while in the hyperbaric chamber, Riley came to love sloths. And a live sloth will be at her birthday party in June, which will be her first time meeting one.

When she grows up, she will be a wild animal doctor, she said.

Riley also loves her dog, Charlie, an 11-year-old beagle mix, and enjoys riding her bike and playing with her iPad. She also swims and plays softball. Batting is her favorite task in softball.

On the fireplace hearth in the Slattery home is a basket of more than 400 get-well cards from the students and staff of Monteith. On the mantel rests a painting of a sloth by Riley’s art teacher at the school.

Riley said her favorite thing about living in Grosse Pointe is “having good neighbors.”

Members of the community have followed Riley’s journey through the Team Super Riley Facebook page maintained by Heidi.

“It just kept getting shared. We got so many prayer warriors that I really think that’s why we are where we are (weeks) out from the last surgery.”

Riley said Children’s Hospital of Michigan Dr. Neena Maripudi, who performed her brain surgery, is her “Wonder Woman.” And Dr. Sandeep Soon is her favorite because he “likes to tell jokes.

“I didn’t want to leave the hospital. They were so good,” she said.

Officer Puckett and his wife visited Riley right before surgery.

“She’s got that bubbly enthusiasm, loves life personality that’s magnetic,” said Puckett.

Added Puckett, “I would put pictures she made me in my office to motivate me and remind me how lucky I am. … She’s a super girl.”

“You can’t not like her,” Harris said. “She goes through the worst things anyone could go through and she keeps smiling. She’s never not smiling.”

Riley lives in the Farms with her mom and dad, Ryan, and her dog. Her plans this summer?

“Playing with my friends,” she said.

This fall she will undergo surgery to remove the growth plates at the bottoms of both legs.