All Kiera Riggs wanted for Halloween was to dress up like Wonder Woman and march in a parade with other patients on the cancer ward at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.
Unfortunately, a high fever kept Kiera in her hospital bed the day of the parade, causing the 5-year-old cancer patient to miss out on the fun.
When a local Rose and Womble Realtor delivering a Thanksgiving meal to Kiera’s family heard about her disappointment, she thought of a way to give the Elizabeth City girl a chance to take part in a parade.
This Saturday night, Kiera not only will get to don her favorite superhero’s costume for Elizabeth City’s annual Christmas Parade, she’ll get to do it aboard her very own float.
“We’re ecstatic about it,” said Kiera’s father, Joe Riggs. “People want to reach out to make her smile.”
Kiera hasn’t had a lot to smile about lately. She has a rare form of leukemia known as acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. It aggressively attacks the soft, inner portion of her bone marrow and moves into her blood stream.
Kiera’s family didn’t have a clue anything was wrong until June, when she awoke one morning screaming that her hip was in pain. However, because they were able to get her back to sleep, Joe and Tammy Riggs figured Kiera was just suffering from growing pains.
But two hours later, Kiera was awake and screaming again, and her pain seemed more intense. Joe and Tammy rushed their daughter to the emergency room.
Once they reached the hospital, doctors ran blood tests and discovered Kiera’s white cell count was far too low. They loaded Keira and Tammy into an ambulance and headed straight to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk.
That was at 3:30 a.m. Before the morning was over, a pediatric oncologist would discover just how serious Keira’s condition was. Because the cancer had been silently eating away at her bone marrow, doctors begin aggressively treating it that very morning.
Kiera would undergo chemotherapy treatments over the following months. Sometimes her treatments would take five days, sometimes they would take eight days. Each time, Keira’s recovery would take at least 21 days, Tammy said.
“Chemo with this type of leukemia is so strong it wipes them out,” she said.
Besides the physical toll on Kiera, fighting their daughter’s leukemia has also taken a toll on the Rigges’ finances. Joe works for Tractor Supply and Tammy was working for Tender Years preschool until Keira was diagnosed. Their daughter, Kirsten, is a senior at Pasquotank County High School and pitches in with a part-time job at Firehouse Subs.
But with Kiera’s extended hospital stay, the loss of two vehicles to mechanical problems — they currently have one, small, unreliable truck that seats two — and the recent loss of the family’s washing machine, the Riggses have faced challenges.
The lack of reliable transportation has been especially worrisome. If Kiera gets a fever of at least 100.4, she has two hours to be rushed to CHKD for a heavy treatment of antibiotics.
Tammy says her family is grateful for what they have. Joe’s job provides enough income to cover their basic household bills and some insurance costs. But paying for meals and other items has been a challenge. Fortunately, the family has received some assistance from the community, she said.
And that’s where Rose and Womble Realty comes in.
According to Cindy Mayberry, the company’s regional broker in charge, Rose and Womble delivers meals to more than 3,000 area families each Thanksgiving. And this year, the Riggses were on the realty company’s list of families to help.
Robin Kelly-Goss, an Elizabeth City-based Realtor with the company, delivered the Riggses their Thanksgiving meal. When she heard about how disappointed Kiera was about not being able to take part in the Halloween parade at CHKD, she had an idea. She asked if Rose and Womble would be willing to sponsor a float for Kiera in Elizabeth City’s upcoming Christmas parade.
The answer, according to Mayberry, was a resounding yes.
“It takes a village, that’s for sure,” Mayberry said.
Kelly-Goss and a group of local volunteers, including Calvin Bright III and Ronald Lowe, will be constructing the float during the latter part of this week, just in time for Keira to make her big parade debut Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Kiera and her family will ride on the float, but perhaps most exciting for Kiera will be sharing the moment with her sister Kirsten, who she describes as her “best friend.”
The Rigges say their love for one another has been key to their fight against Kiera’s illness over the past six months. Also key has been the love they’ve received from strangers.
For more information about Kiera and her fight against leukemia, check out the family’s Facebook page, Kiera’s Fighting Journey. On the page you can also check out her GoFundMe site.