Bittersweet graduation day for parents of Utah high schooler still in hospital after fall

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HEBER CITY — When life revolves around hospital visits, there’s just no easy way to put it.

“Um, it’s been … yeah, it’s been quite a journey,” Jesse Riley said.

A journey that’s included a 32-day roller coaster of emotions, filled with the unknown for Jesse and his wife Caysie.

“We’re hanging in there,” Jesse Riley said.

They’ve been at the bedside of their daughter, Avery Tanner, 18, since the day she fell 20-25 feet down Elephant Rock in Wasatch County while rappelling with her high school prom group on April 20.

“The news was not good and we felt like we both basically had been given the death sentence,” Jesse Riley remembers thinking.

Twelve dreadful days later, Avery woke up from a coma. 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 the 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.

An Instagram account that Jesse 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 wear “#averystrong” when they compete, and several others are frequent visitors to Avery in the hospital.

All of it, combined with Avery’s amazing progress, has helped the Rileys make it through.

“When [her classmates] would come to the hospital and they saw us okay and laughing,” Avery’s mother, Caysie Riley said. “They felt like they could be okay.”

“Before Avery had her accident, we had five kids and now we have 500,” Jesse Riley likes to say. “We love them to death and they’ve been our strength and hopefully we’ve been theirs.”

Many of those supporters from Wasatch High School walked across the graduation stage on Wednesday. A day that turned out to be a bittersweet one for the Rileys.

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“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.”

He and Caysie captured a picture of Avery on Wednesday in her hospital bed, wearing her graduation cap giving a thumbs up to the camera. Her parents were invited to the graduation ceremony in Heber City to receive her diploma on her behalf.

After that, they will head back to the hospital to Avery and the painful, yet joyful journey to recovery.

“It’s hard to be anything but grateful because she’s still with us — and that’s what matters most,” Jesse Riley said.

Doctors haven’t given a timetable for Avery’s recovery, but her parents say that up to this point she has exceeded expectations.

* does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

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Matt Rascon


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