Riley Spreadbury needs a car.
But the Oak Lawn Community High School senior can’t drive just any car. Instead, she needs a vehicle equipped with a wheelchair lift and hand controls. Her math teacher, Ellen Kruger, is doing all she can to make that a reality.
“She made a joke about how her brother, who is a sophomore, can drive and she can’t,” Kruger said.
The veteran educator didn’t forget Spreadbury’s remark and began to wonder what she could do to resolve her student’s dilemma.
Spreadbury’s family owns only one van and the cost of another vehicle equipped with a lift and hand controls is cost prohibitive, Kruger said.
She wrote a letter to Ellen DeGeneres’ television show in the hopes that that they’d tell Spreadbury’s story and give her a van. The show, however, did not respond. Kruger then turned to the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association.
She nominated Spreadbury for a contest the association is sponsors. The winners receive specially equipped vans.
“I thought that something like this sounded more realistic,” Kruger said.
More than 900 people were nominated. The top 10 vote getters are selected and the three finalists win a van. Riley has gathered nearly 8,000 votes, primarily the result of a promotional campaign at the high school and via Facebook, Kruger said.
She’d like to get the entire community involved. Votes can be cast for Spreadbury at www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com/entrant/riley-spreadbury-hometown-il. One vote can be cast each day.
Spreadbury was born with a condition called Goldenhar Syndrome.
Despite this condition, she led a typical childhood, participating in dance, ballet, swimming, rollerblading and hiking. But at age 10, she developed scoliosis. She had numerous surgeries on her back and because of complications; she sustained a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed.
She spent over 100 days in the hospital and was able to regain control of her arms but she remains paralyzed from the chest down.
Spreadbury has never let her condition hold her back, Kruger said.
“It’s almost like you have to tell her she’s in a wheelchair,” she said.
Spreadbury, a Hometown resident, has been significantly involved during her four years in high school.
She was a writer for the school newspaper and was involved in the leadership of several student organizations.
She takes piano lessons and played on a youth sled hockey team for two years. She also is active in the Shriner’s Hospital community as a spokesperson and poster child and served as a camp counselor for their Spinal Injury Sports Camp. Finally, she is taking a peer training class where she helps developmentally disabled children with physical education activities.
Spreadbury wants to become a recreational therapist and work with children whose mobility was affected as a result of an accident or surgery. She plans to attend community college for two years before transferring to Illinois State University to complete her degree.
She’s so optimistic,” Kruger said. “She has embraced her situation in life and lives it to its fullest. “This girl needs a car.”