WESTON – A teenage girl battling sickle cell anemia got a Sweet 16 party to remember, thanks to an organization that is dedicated to making wishes come true for ailing children.
"I never thought it could happen because I know bills have to be paid first,” said Alyssa Riley. “But then I met a couple of girls, one of them met Mariah Carey and the other went on a shopping spree.”
Make-A-Wish Southern Florida made their dreams come true for both girls.
“So, I figured, why not a party,” said Alyssa, who contacted the organization.
She was diagnosed at 13 with sickle cell anemia, a serious blood disorder in which blood cells become sickle or crescent shaped, instead of discs, making passage through the circulatory system difficult, sometimes causing excruciating pain and even organ damage.
Now a sophomore at Pembroke Pines Charter High School, Alyssa said she was scared when she first found out about her
illness but soon she was out doing the things she loved.
“I make sure to drink a lot of water and just live right. The only thing I sort of miss is playing flag football,” she said.
Instead, the Miramar resident spends time volunteering and working towards a Bright Futures College Scholarship. So far, she has accumulated 378 volunteer hours, which assures her a Silver Cord award upon graduation.
“She doesn’t worry about anything,” said her best friend, Nikel Roberts, 16. “She stays spunky and she’s more sociable. She’s a really cool girl.”
Nikel, of course, got an invitation to Alyssa’s party hosted at the Bonaventure Resort and Spa in Weston on Saturday by Make-a-Wish Southern Florida.
Aside from friends and family, Alyssa was looking for two main ingredients to make her party special – candy and dancing, and there was plenty of both for the more than 100 party-goers. They included four students from Cypress Bay High School, who kept the party going by leading some of the dances: Nicole Kaufman, Nicole Haines, Zoe Giardina and Hannah Wiljhelm.
After a dinner of hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese and more, Make-a-Wish officials rolled out a buffet table loaded with more than 100 pounds of candy donated by Costco. Top Hat Entertainment brought in a Pucker Powder machine so guests could fill their own oversize pixie straws with the flavors of their choice.
Meanwhile, an ice cream table was set serving vanilla and chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, Oreo cookies, chocolate fudge and other toppings.
“Everybody gets their wish and this is what she wanted,” said Richard Kelly, vice president of brand advancement and chapter operations for Make-a-Wish Southern Florida.
The organization, whose territory includes 13 Florida counties and the U.S. Virgin Islands, says since 1983 it has granted more than 8,500 wishes to children who have life-threatening medical conditions, or a wish every 16 hours, at an average cost of $5,000 each.
Alyssa’s mother Audia Riley said her daughter has been hospitalized twice in the past month alone.
“With this type of sickle cell, she should have fewer pain spurts and this is still very traumatizing for her,” said Riley, a nurse at Memorial Hospital.
Riley and her husband Leighton both have the sickle cell trait, instead of the full-blown ailment, making them carriers. Alyssa is the only one of four children in whom the disease has appeared.
“But she’s still the same happy-go-lucky girl she was before. She’s a strong little girl,” said her father, Leighton Riley.
At her party, Alyssa showed no signs of her illness. She danced to the song Daughters by John Mayer, did the wobble and flew across the dance floor to Crank Dat by Soulja Boy.
She also cut a custom-made three-layer strawberry red velvet vanilla cake which she chose herself and was donated by Miami-based Divine Delicacies.
“It was fun,” said Alyssa. “I want to do it all again.”
*Alyssa Riley, a sickle cell anemia patient, stands with her parents Leighton, left, and Audia at her Sweet 16 birthday party.