Remembering a fighter

Riley Friddle, with her mother Andrea in this April 2005 photo, died of brain cancer at age 4 in September of 2007. To honor their daughter's memory, and with help from members of their church, Andrea and Todd Friddle formed Riley's Reindeers, whose goal

Andy Burriss

ROCK HILL — Riley Friddle was unforgettable. The white-blond hair, the Clemson clothes, the fight against brain cancer that no child should ever have to fight for all of the four years of her life.

Nobody can forget how she wanted to go to school — and did go one day to preschool — where she was so full of life that she got busted for throwing Play-Doh.

Tragically, she died in September 2007, before ever having a chance to go back.

Now, the kids fighting for life at Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, where Riley spent so many weeks and months, will get to know a little bit about the spirit of this little girl.

Riley's Reindeer will make a grand entrance.

Riley's Reindeer are not fur and bone, but are people from Rock Hill's Church of Christ. Riley's family and the church members don't fly, but their spirits soar.

The idea to create a holiday giving tradition in Riley's honor came from her parents, Todd and Andrea Friddle. They saw firsthand at the hospital what gifts coming in to children and families meant to those fighting for survival.

So they decided to start something to keep Riley's name alive, in the same hospital where room No. 5 is the Riley Friddle Room.

'We received so much from so many, we just had to find a way to give back,' Andrea Friddle said. 'This is a way for not just us to remember Riley, but for other people to remember her.'

The Friddles floated the idea at their church, where the Rev. Mark Reynolds thought so much of it that he encouraged adults and children to get involved in making gift bags, and bow-covered blankets and so much more.

'I talked about how the Bible teaches us that the best thing we can be is a servant, and people really accepted it,' Reynolds said.

In their own long days at the hospital, the Friddles learned that cancer kids teach courage, perseverance and inspiration. So they put together the array of gifts to reflect what those children and families deal with.

The church membership will assemble the bags Sunday for delivery by Santa — Reynolds the preacher. Each bag will have a journal for adults and kids to record thoughts, and a photo album to keep important pictures.

'The journal can really help the families record those feelings that come so often in the hospital,' said Joyce McGuirt, Riley's grandmother.

Each child will get a fleece blanket and a Riley's Reindeer T-shirt. There will be baby food jars with 'Riley's Reindeer food' in them.

'Sugar and sweet stuff for those children to sprinkle on the hospital lawn, or, hopefully, at home if they can be home, so Santa's reindeer know how to find them,' Andrea Friddle said.

They'll get 'Riley's Reindeer vitamins' — M&M candies in bags— and dozens of get-well cards written by children at the church, with words

written in crayon, including phrases such as 'We all love you.'

Andrea and Todd Friddle, since Riley's death, had a son named Briggs. He's 9 months old and 'healthy as can be,' Andrea Friddle said.

But the Friddles know not every kid is healthy.

All this was done and packed up recently for delivery, for no other reason than to help kids fighting tumors and blood diseases and other terrible diseases to smile around the holidays.

Just like one kid named Riley before them in that hospital, who never stopped smiling, never stopped fighting.