By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Vacations are typically celebrations – away from home, work and ringing phones … away from stress … away from commitments – just time to unwind, relax, and have a good time. A recent pleasure trip was anything but that for one local couple, though.
What is the saying about how sometimes the best-laid plans often go awry? It’s true. You’ve probably heard complaints from folks who have saved for and planned a beach vacation and perhaps the weather isn’t perfect. Others may have experienced an irritating flight delay or perhaps car problems while traveling to their destination – an expense they weren’t counting on. Well, these are merely minor inconveniences! Just ask Shinnston residents Bob and Ann Riley.
They left on April 24thfor what was supposed to be six enjoyable days – a retirement trip – to fulfill Bob’s dream of visiting Las Vegas. It was their first trip alone, without children and grandchildren in a longtime, and their first flight in 41 years! Bob, however, wasn’t feeling well during the flight and it didn’t get better following their arrival. A trip to an urgent care facility didn’t diagnose anything serious, and despite Ann’s urging, Bob insisted on going to see the Jersey Boys show, a hot ticket in Vegas! Following the show, however, he finally consented to finding a hospital.
Long story short … what followed extended their six-day trip into a month-long stay! Bob had pneumonia and then a heart attack. During a heart catheterization, it was determined that stents would not correct the problem, and during that procedure, he also suffered a stroke and they had to shock his heart! Fast forward a little, and Bob was transferred to another hospital where he underwent six-way heart by-pass surgery.
It is next to impossible to imagine Ann’s anxiety, no doubt intensified by being away from family and virtually alone in the 29th most populous city in the U.S. where she was unfamiliar with her whereabouts and more importantly, medical care!
She was amazed by the helpful overtures, the strangers who offered their private cell phone numbers, the hospital staff members who made private recommendations! Perhaps they put themselves in her shoes and empathized with the decisions she had to make in a strange place during such a threatening situation.
“Honestly, as I look back now, I feel that we were in the right place when this happened! At every turn, people were so helpful,” she said. “Bob had the top cardio-thoracic surgeon, and we felt very confident with him. I couldn’t believe that he took my husband to surgery and did what needed to be done in just 69 minutes!”
When she called her children to inform them of the seriousness of their father’s health, ALL FIVE of them left their families and jobs and showed up for support! Knowing that it would be a long recovery period, they traveled to Las Vegas in shifts, but for at least a four-day period, they were ALL there together. And now that Dad is home and doing well, they all look back on those four days together as a very bonding experience.
The Riley’s two daughters – Abby Kovalck and Abby Maxwell – say they mostly offered emotional support. It was their older brothers – Chad, Clay and Clark – who did the leg work and provided technical assistance. In a tourist destination where rentals are typically for extended periods of time, it was not an easy task to arrange for a furnished condo close to the hospital for a limited time so their mother would not have to catch shut-eye in the waiting area! But they managed to do it … as well as to teach her how to use Uber for transportation and how to Skype!
“I could never have gotten through this without the strong support of my five children,” Ann admits now. “And I am thankful to hail from a small community where we were on prayer lists in probably every church in the area. Family, friends, former co-workers, neighbors – so may caring people who called, sent cards, mowed our lawn, planted our garden, and still are carrying in food – it’s just unbelievable the amount of support we have received. We were never so glad to come ‘home’!” Ann added.
As for their five children … when asked if Father’s Day this year would have special meaning to them, their remarks were all delivered with tears!
Chad Riley, the oldest of the five Riley children, said, “Yes, Father’s Day will definitely be extra special this year. Even though we have always been a very close family, this incident has given me a whole new perspective! I will never take my father’s presence in my life for granted. We are just so happy to still have him in our lives and back home with us.”
Clay agreed that Father’s Day will have a new meaning this year. “My dad has a new lease on life, and his children are the primary beneficiaries! Now, as I look toward the future, I know that I will never look back and say ‘Gee, I wish I would have ….’ where my dad is concerned.”
Clark continued, “I would never have wished this to happen, but I am thankful for the way it transpired.Dad received the best of care and now we have him back and in such great shape. He may not have enjoyed Vegas like he expected, but he did hit the jackpot while he was there. They saved his life!”
Abby, who will be bringing the Riley’s 14th grandchild into the world in a couple of months, described what transpired as “eye-opening”.
“I have always loved and appreciated my father, but this has given me new realization of just how much he means to me,” she said.“I’m sure he’ll be hugged a little tighter this year. And I am thankful that even though it was a worrisome and unfortunate event, it had a bright side because my sister, my brothers and I had an opportunity to spend one-on-one time together. It strengthened our relationship.”
Ally added that for her in particular, it was a ‘bonding’ experience. “My mother was pregnant for me when my oldest brother Chad was graduating from high school. Then he was off to college and then married and having his own family, so we never actually lived in the same house together. For the first time I can remember, it was just mom and dad and me and my sister and brothers, and it was nice to have that time together. But, after this happening, I think,” she added humorously, “that Ann and Bob Riley will not be allowed to go anywhere from now on without child supervision!”
Bob has experienced no setbacks and is doing well. He goes to physical therapy every week to rehabilitate himself and says that he will be happy to be able to do things he enjoys with his kids – such as going to the Sunset-Ellis Flea Market on the weekends and having breakfast at Bob Evans afterwards.
Looking back over this “dream vacation” that didn’t quite pan out like he hoped, Bob said, “I have five of the best kids … and that goes for my sons-in-law and daughters-in-law too. Their spouses carried all the weight while they came to support me, and I’m sure that wasn’t easy. They all make me proud, and every one of them gave me inspiration. They had a slogan – ‘Rise & Grind’– that gave me a great incentive to get through rehab. Now, hopefully I have many years left to give them.”
Quite a homecoming it was too – with family, neighbors and friends lining their street, holding ‘Welcome Home’ signs! As with any vacation, it is always good to return home. But in this case, “There’s no place like home” certainly had a much more profound meaning. One small candle burning in the window of ‘home sweet home’ looked better to the Rileys than all the bright lights of the Entertainment Capital of the World!