Family goes Greek to fight illness

T-shirts help pay for Riley Stevens' aplastic anemia treatments

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The "Rileys Warriors team" poses in shirts designed by Riley Stevens, an 11 year old Hayden boy battling aplastic anemia.

COEUR d'ALENE - They call themselves "Greek geeks."

Katie Stevens, mom of Riley Stevens, an 11-year-old Hayden boy diagnosed two months ago with aplastic anemia, said she has always shared the stories of Greek gods and heroes with her kids.

"We just really like Greek mythology," Stevens said.

It was the likely motivation for a T-shirt design by young Riley. He produced the shirts, each bearing an ancient Greek soldier's head, with the help of his grandmother, Gwen Pearce. They sold 40 of them, and the funds raised have helped the Stevens family pay some of the mounting medical bills.

Aplastic anemia is a rare condition that occurs when the bone marrow stops making enough red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets for the body. Riley is receiving immunosuppressive drug therapy, a course of powerful medications that could put the disease into remission. In the meantime, the treatment seriously compromises the patient's immune system, making Riley vulnerable to illnesses and with few resources to fight any germs that manage to make him ill. If the drug therapy isn't successful, Riley will likely require a bone marrow stem cell transplant.

After the shirts were made, they learned that Riley's physician, Stefanos Intzes, at the children's oncology program at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, is from Athens.

"That was just really neat. It was like we had our own Greek hero here," Katie Stevens said.

Members of Riley's family, his team of "warriors," wear the shirts every Friday.

Since a story about Riley's plight was published by The Press on Nov. 18, the family has received numerous requests from people wanting to support the boy and the family.

Donations have flowed into a trust fund set up in Riley's name at U.S. Bank, about $3,500.

"We're so grateful. I hate that my child has to go through this, but my husband and I are just in awe of people's generosity," Stevens said. "That is a beautiful lesson for my children to learn through this."

Riley received a card from a woman who told him she had read his story. She told him she had aplastic anemia in 1980.

"I am now 81 years old and in pretty good health," the woman wrote.

Stevens said the note "really lifted spirits around here."

This has been a tough few weeks for Riley, Stevens said.

"He spent five days in the hospital with a fever. The doctors said it was probably a virus," Stevens said.

The boy may need a transfusion, and his spirits are a bit low right now, she said.

Since he became ill himself, Riley has been making blankets for the children hospitalized on the oncology unit at Sacred Heart. Although aplastic anemia is not cancer, the symptoms and treatment are similar to those for leukemia.

"He does try very hard to see the bright side," Stevens said.

Stevens said they try to turn Riley's visits to the hospital for treatment and tests into something more than "being poked." Earlier this week they brought dinner to the inpatients on the children's oncology unit.

Other people contacted the Rileys to find out how they could buy a "Riley's Warriors" shirt. The family decided to try to produce another batch. They need to sell 30 shirts to place the order, but hope to sell more.

They're selling adult shirts only, the same styles and sizes for both men and women.

Short-sleeved T-shirts are $25; long-sleeved shirts are $30; and hooded sweatshirts are available for $60.

Most of the sales proceeds will go to Riley, ranging from $12.50 to $36 per item, depending on the style and size. Short-sleeved shirts are available in adult sizes small through XXXL. Long-sleeved can be purchased in adult sizes up to XXL. The sweatshirts come in just small or large.

Anyone interested in purchasing a shirt, and needing additional information, can email Riley's grandma at dgpearce@blackfoot.net. Checks to purchase the shirts can be sent to Gwen Pearce, P.O. Box 922, Phillipsburg, MT 59858

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