VAN ALSTYNE -- In North Texas, sledding doesn't always involve a sled. On the rare occasion Mother Nature provides the terrain, kids are known to improvise the equipment.
It's fun, but so easy to take a tumble or slide off course.
When 16-year-old Riley Sprowl took a spill sledding on an ice chest lid, he instantly knew he could not just get up and dust himself off.
“He knew at that point he was paralyzed,” said Jeff Burge, a close family friend. “He had no illusions. He knew how seriously he was injured.”
The football and baseball standout at Van Alstyne High School hit a fence post and broke his neck. Even so, Burge said Riley was more concerned about how his accident would affect his family.
“Mom was at his side and they were waiting on the ambulance and CareFlite to get there and transport him, “ Burge said. “He was reassuring his mother. He was concerned about her well being, and his father, and his sister.”
Riley was flown to Parkland Hospital. As a result of the Dec. 11 accident, he's paralyzed from the shoulders down. He remains in the ICU.
Riley often volunteered his time with younger kids, and was active with Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Burge said Riley has a strong faith and believes God has a plan for his life.
He knows he'll never walk again, let alone play sports, but he remains remarkably positive.
“He just has such an infectious energy about him,” Burge said. “He has a huge heart. He’s a sweet kid. He’s so respectful and so polite. He’s a kid you would want as your own son.”
Riley has had a persistent fever and doctors worry about pneumonia, but he was well enough for a tracheotomy. It’s helped his breathing and allowed him to communicate better, though he speaks only in a whisper.
Burge said Riley has endeared himself to hospital staff.
“To tell the nurses ‘thank you’ when they leave the room after working on him, he’ll blow kisses with his mouth,” Burge said.
His family will spend Christmas at the hospital. They have insurance, but expenses are piling up from missed work days, meals, and trips back and forth from Van Alstyne to Dallas.
Through social media friends and classmates are organizing fundraisers to help out. They have posted hundreds of messages on a Facebook page titled “Pray For Riley.” There is also a website where Riley’s mom is updating people on his progress at this link. There, people can donate to fund that has been set up in Riley’s name.
A fundraiser has been scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 21, at the First Baptist Church in Van Alstyne from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the VA Family Life Center. Volunteers will sell “Pray For Riley” T-shirts and bracelets. T-shirts are $15 and bracelets are $5.
“I wish I could say I was surprised by the outpouring of love and support from our community, but we rally behind our own,” Burge said.