Some people wear their heart on their sleeve. Willie Guerrero wears his on his skin.
The proud father from Coram, New York has a Riley wagon tattooed on his arm. It’s a statement of his gratitude for the hospital that saved his daughter’s life and embraced his shocked family in their time of need.
Ariel Guerrero was born on November 16, 2013, more than three months before her due date. Her parents were visiting northern Indiana to buy a dog when Lolita Guerrero went into preterm labor and gave birth to her firstborn child. “She was so tiny,” recalls Lolita. “She weighed just a little more than two pounds.”
After a few weeks, Ariel developed a severe intestinal complication known as necrotizing enterocolitis. She needed specialty care that only Riley Hospital for Children could provide. A December snowstorm made a helicopter flight impossible, so an ambulance carried Ariel safely to Indianapolis. She had emergency surgery at Riley, then spent several months recuperating and growing stronger. During those stressful months far away from home, the Guerrero family was grateful for the doctors and nurses who provided excellent care, and for the Riley Child Life and social work teams who offered comfort and support.
While Lolita stayed by Ariel’s side, Willie had to return to work in New York. Social worker Emily Strait helped him get a free flight voucher through Southwest Airlines so he could make a return visit to Indianapolis. “That meant a lot to me,” said Lolita in February, with Ariel sleeping nearby in their room in the Riley Newborn Intensive Care Unit. “That was a big thing, to have him come spend time with the baby. I am so blessed to have everyone! They’re the best here.” Strait humbly returned the compliment to the new mother. “The way you’ve been coping has been amazing,” she told Lolita.
Empowering families is a critical part of the social work mission at Riley. “As social workers we feel that we are privileged to stand by the family’s side while they face life-changing events,” says Lauran Canady, director of social work. “The gifts that are given by donors are essential to our ability to help families overcome crisis.”
Today, Ariel is back home in New York, growing big and doing great. The Guerreros say they could never forget the way the experienced Riley’s commitment to serving entire families—even if it weren’t for the permanent reminder on Willie’s arm. “They will always be my family,” says Lolita. “For life.”