Through it all, she’s still smiling.
Riley Simmons is out of a Bay Area hospital and back in her fifth grade class on a short daily schedule. That’s after putting operations for a tumor that was removed in late 2012 behind her while continuing to deal with recovery therapy sessions.
Colony Oak School clerk Marsha Silva noted after she saw the 11-year-old go through the office on her way to class Tuesday that she was no different than when her medical problems first developed.
“That smile never fades,” Silva said of Simmons. “In her darkest day it was like that.”
Simmons first returned to the classroom a week ago today.
Her grandmother Sandy Thornell Hodges posted her excitement about her granddaughter’s progress on Facebook Monday:
“We are celebrating an incredible milestone. For the first time in a year and four months, Riley was able to attend her first day of school with her peers. She was so excited and nervous at the same time. Again, she was treated like a celebrity. She had requests for autographs, and her friend Marley said they (her classmates) could get an autograph for two quarters. Knowing Marley she probably had a charity in mind to donate the proceeds.”
“Riley added that Marley and Sydnee assured her they would be her bodyguards at school and take care of her – such an amazing friendship.”
The grinning fifth grader later said that her friends were just kidding about the donations for the personal autographs. She said when she returned her class was dealing with subtracting negative numbers that she had yet to learn.
For Christmas she had received a guitar that she nicknames “Beth” but that is being upstaged by a keyboard, she said, because it is easier for her to play without having to deal with the strings.
The marquee at the front of the school read, “Welcome back Riley.”
In December of 2012 the Ripon community turned out enmasse to support Riley’s parents so they could stay with their daughter in the hospital and not worry about their income. Some 500 crowded into the Canal Street Grill in Ripon for two hours of wine and hors d’ oeuvres that raised tens of thousands of dollars. That was followed by the Manteca Youth Soccer league that established a benefit tournament in Simmons’ honor and raised over $10,000 to help her in the soccer event’s initial year,
She was seen as an inspiration to others by continuing to smile after her major surgery that left her temporarily handicapped in her vision, balance and speech. Her grandmother had been quoted as saying Riley gave a “thumbs up” as when was wheeled into surgery – continuing to smiling afterwards in front of teary-eyed family members.
Even Colony Oak kindergarten teacher Sherri Huff had donated her Christmas quilt for a raffle to support the family. She has sold more than 800 tickets at $10 a ticket raising some $8,000.
Riley’s dad Rick had been quoted in an open letter to the community that they first learned of their daughter’s condition after taking her to an eye doctor in November of 2012 where they heard a diagnosis that left them shocked and devastated.
Rick Simmons said that many people in their giving said it made them feel better about the dire situation their family faced. “Our community should feel wonderful and proud of the profound affect they have had on our lives.”
The end of May will see Riley and her family going to the Disney resort Aulani in Ko Olina, Hawaii where she is being granted her secret wish to swim with the dolphins — a gift granted to her recently in Sacramento by the Make a Wish Foundation.