HEBER CITY — Graduation day at Wasatch High School was bittersweet for Jesse and Caysie Riley.
Their daughter, Avery Tanner, should have received her diploma Wednesday. Instead, she remains hospitalized after falling 20 to 25 feet and sustaining serious head injuries while rappelling Elephant Rock at Wasatch Mountain State Park with her high school prom group on April 20.
“A really hard part of this journey is that Avery had been looking forward to this month for so long,” Jesse Riley said. “She’s the one who should be there, not us. She’s the one who did all this hard work.”
But on Wednesday, it was the Rileys who accepted Avery’s diploma during the school’s commencement. And although she wasn’t able to attend, they took a picture of her, in her hospital bed, wearing her graduation cap giving a thumbs up to the camera.
“It’s been … yeah, it’s been quite a journey,” Jesse Riley said. “We’re hanging in there.”
For more than a month, the Rileys have been at the bedside of their daughter as she slowly recovers. She awoke from a coma 12 days after the accident, and weeks later, the slow process of healing continues with triumphs and setbacks.
“We’re starting to see a lot more of her personality coming out,” Jesse Riley said. “That kind of gives us the feeling that, anything physical we can deal with. We’ve got her still — that’s what matters most.”
It matters not only to the Rileys, but to countless Wasatch High School classmates and Heber City residents who have given their time, money and love to Avery’s family every step of the way.
“Before Avery had her accident we had five kids and now we have 500,” Jesse Riley said. “We love them to death, and they’ve been our strength, and hopefully we’ve been theirs.”
An Instagram account that he created to record Avery’s progress has nearly 7,000 followers. A GoFundMe account that a student created on Avery’s behalf has raised more than $30,000.
Other students have put on fundraisers, school sports teams wore “#averystrong” when they competed and several others are frequent visitors at the hospital.
All of it, combined with Avery’s amazing progress, has helped the Rileys make it through.Comment on this story
“When (her classmates) would come to the hospital and they saw us OK and laughing,” Avery’s mother said, “they felt like they could be OK.”
After Avery’s accident, “the news was not good,” Jesse Riley said, “and we felt like we both basically had been given the death sentence.”
Although doctors haven’t given a timetable for Avery’s recovery, her parents say that up to this point she has exceeded expectations.
“It’s hard to be anything but grateful because she’s still with us — and that’s what matters most.”