Grace Rinkel recounts her Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana Health story not in the number of surgeries she’d had there—a number in the double digits —but by listing off the multiple red wagons, prom dresses and library books she and her family have donated since.
The 11-year-old sixth-grader from LaPorte, Ind., first had surgery at Riley Hospital when she was 4 years old, after doctors discovered she had a megaureter—a widening of the tube that connects the kidney and bladder—that was obstructed.
The surgery went well, but serious kidney infections and kidney stones followed, bringing the Rinkel family back to Riley several times in the last seven years.
“When you’re little, you don’t really know what’s happening, but now I can listen to the doctors and understand what’s going on, which can be a good thing and a bad thing,” Grace says. “One of my favorite things is that they always give me good-smelling ChapSticks to decorate my gas mask before surgery.”
Grace’s parents, Jon and Sarah Rinkel, credit Riley Pediatric Urologist Martin Kaefer, M.D., and his team for troubleshooting subsequent medical problems and keeping them well-informed.
“We wouldn’t have Grace if it wasn’t for Riley,” Sarah says, fighting back tears. “We really feel that we owe her life to Riley, so we want to do anything we can to give back even a little sliver of what they’ve given to us.”
And give back they have. The family has hosted five summer block parties in LaPorte to benefit Riley. One year in lieu of Christmas gifts, they sponsored one of Riley’s iconic red wagons, dedicated to Grace’s nurses. Grace later raised half the money for a second wagon and the Riley Children’s Foundation matched that amount.
"This is an extremely generous family,” says Dr. Kaefer. “They have gone through many hardships with their daughter, but instead of asking ‘why us?’ they have poured their hearts into making Riley a better place for others with similar medical challenges. It has been a privilege to participate in the care of such a compassionate family."
Grace and her family also collect gently used dresses, shoes and accessories for the annual Riley Cancer Center Prom, and have partnered with a LaPorte day care center to earn books to stock Riley’s library.
“Riley was there for me,” Grace says. “That’s why I give back.”