Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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October 23, 2012

Dudley kindergartner gets to Make-A-Wish

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Students in Suzette Sawyers’ kindergarten class at Dudley Elementary spent Monday afternoon giving an animated send-off to one of their own.

Riley Graham, a student in Sawyer’s class, will be going with his mother and brother to visit friends including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday for a trip sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Riley’s classmates threw him a farewell party Monday complete with balloons, cake and a Mickey Mouse hat for his trip.

“I want to see Donald Duck,” Riley said. “He’s my favorite. Goofy is funny, too. I want to ride the rides with Donald. I have never been to Disney before. We are going on an airplane.”

Amy Graham, Riley’s mother, said her son has been battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) since January but never lets his illness get in his way.

“The trip means a lot,” Graham said. “We cherish every moment we have together, because you never know what will happen. ALL has a great success rate, but you never know. Riley handles it very well and he rarely has a bad day. He still runs around and plays with the other kids. When he gets sick, he is usually back up again and ready to play in a few minutes.”

Graham said the trip will give both her and Riley a break from the strain of treatment.

“He has to be in treatment for three-and-a-half years total,” Graham said. “His hair is just now starting to grow back from the chemo. He just wants to get away from the doctors and the treatment and everything. We want him to just have some fun.”

Riley’s teacher said the class has a furry substitute to fill in whenever Riley’s treatment prevents him from attending class.

“The Pepsi Foundation donated a monkey that sits in Riley’s seat when he is off taking his chemo,” Sawyer said. “We take the monkey around with us to lunch and the gym. We send pictures of the monkey in class to Riley when he is getting treatment. Getting those pictures makes him feel like he isn’t missing out. Once, we sent a picture of the monkey drawing with crayons, and Riley said he wanted to know how the monkey could hold the crayons.”

Sawyers said Riley is a model student despite his illness.

“He has been a trooper,” Sawyers said. “He is one of my healthiest children. He’s a helper to us all the time. He never gets sick. He is just a great part of the day for all of us. He is so kind and loves the other children. We are so excited he gets to go on this trip.”

— Contact Kate Coil at

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