Although she was born with a heart defect, Pine-Richland High School student Riley Jones leads close to a typical teenage life.
She’s a member of the color guard in the school’s marching band. She likes to bake and paint, and she loves to dance.
Riley does have to avoid playing contact sports and venturing near electromagnets, such as those inside metal detectors, as they’d cause disruption to the pacemaker she wears. And she undergoes periodic testing to ensure the device, which delivers electrical impulses to control her heart’s rhythm, works properly.
Otherwise, the Pine resident pretty much is your average high school senior, looking forward to graduating and going on to college.
In that overall context, she never really considered being on the receiving end from Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as a common misconception about the organization is that it provides solely for children who have terminal conditions.
“We were told we would be eligible for a wish, but we never felt like we wanted to go that route. She didn’t feel like she was sick enough,” her mother, Lori, said. “But when we found out you could do a giveback, that’s what piqued her interest.”
Courtesy of Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia
Riley Jones (center) is pictured with her sister, Sydney, and mother, Lori.
Through Make-A-Wish, Riley selected holiday gifts from a registry for youngsters receiving cardiac treatment at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Then she and her family hosted a party at the hospital for the patients to open their presents and share their stories.
As a frequent visitor to Children’s for medical professionals to monitor her condition — she has a complete heart block, meaning the organ’s chambers fail to function together — Riley found a natural fit for her act of largesse.
“I’ve had positive experiences there my whole life,” she said.
Children’s provided her with a wish list on behalf of the young cardiac patients.
“She took a real interest in what items that were chosen for the hospital,” her mother said. “She put a lot of thought into it, because she knows, especially on the heart floor, there were going to be kids of all ages. So she wanted to make sure she was taking care of the babies and the teens.”
Lori helps take care of young people who face challenges similar to Riley’s through her involvement with the Children’s Heart Foundation, serving as secretary of the nonprofit’s board of directors and chairing the marketing and communications committee.
She is a past leader of the foundation’s Pennsylvania Region leader and chaired the annual Pittsburgh Congenital Heart Walk for eight years. The 2024 event is scheduled for June 23 at Stage AE in the North Shore.
In 2012, Lori published her children’s book “Riley’s Heart Machine,” which explains the purpose of a pacemaker and encourages the acceptance of other people’s differences. She went on to conduct assemblies at area schools to enlighten youngsters further about one of the most vital of human organs.
Lori has written another book for children, “Confetti Croc,” along with three romance novels.
For her part, Riley is focused on deciding where she wants to go for the next chapter in her life: the University of Pittsburgh, which accepted her into its school of public health, or Penn State, where her sister, Sydney, attends.
Either way, Riley hopes to pursue a career in the medical field.
“I want to help other kids in my same situation,” she said. “Science classes at school are always my favorite, so I thought it would be a good fit.”
Harry Funk is a TribLive news editor, specifically serving as editor of the Hampton, North Allegheny, North Hills, Pine Creek and Bethel Park journals. A professional journalist since 1985, he joined TribLive in 2022. You can contact Harry at [email protected].