Jarryd Roughead gives young Riley Harris a gift he'll never forget

A young Hawks supporter with Treacher Collins Syndrome has starred in his own brown and gold fairy tale, with the help of Bupa and the Hawthorn Football Club. 

Seven-year-old Riley Harris lives and breathes brown and gold. According to him, he’s just an ordinary Hawks-loving school kid.

But according to his family, he’s so much more than that.

When Riley was born, parents Andrea and Scott Harris didn’t know if he’d survive to see his first birthday. 

“We just thought we were having a normal healthy baby,” says Andrea. “We were over the moon that we’d had a little boy. But the doctors were taking quite a while to check him, so Scott and I were getting quite worried.”

The only real sign that something wasn’t quite right was that Riley’s jaw was very small. He was closely monitored by hospital staff, and within a few hours he stopped breathing and had to be transferred to the Royal Children’s Hospital.

“I just remember the phone ringing at two o’clock in the morning,” Scott says. “I guess in the back of my mind I knew what was coming and I just remember thinking to myself, ‘please don’t let it be the hospital…’ and unfortunately it was the hospital and life sort of changed.”

He was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition called Treacher Collins Syndrome which affects the development of bones and tissues in the face.

Baby Riley Harris in hospital

“In the first few weeks he started to go down hill quite rapidly and that’s when the surgeons stepped in and said it was time to operate,” says Andrea. “We were handing over our six-week-old baby, not knowing what the outcome was going to be… those moments were pretty heartbreaking.”

Andrea and Scott were already busy parents to 18-month-old twin girls when Riley was born. They say they don’t know how they would have survived if it wasn’t for the support of family and friends, stepping in to take over during the toughest days.

So far, he’s had 10 surgeries, and has experienced some hearing loss. But none of that slows Riley down. He proudly wears his brown and gold hearing aids in support of his favourite team, and loves playing footy on the weekends with his sisters.

As Hawthorn’s health and care partner, Bupa decided to do something special for the Harris family, who have been Bupa members for four generations. They made Riley an honorary Hawk for the day, as Hawthorn took on Collingwood at the MCG on 2 July 2017.

Riley running through the banner with Roughy

“I think it’s any little boy’s dream to walk out on the MCG,” says Scott, “So for Riley to actually run out on to the ground with the football players through the banner… it’s going to be absolutely mind blowing I reckon! And when Andrea told me I’d have the opportunity to toss the coin… I just couldn’t believe it.”

Riley’s eyes lit up as Captain Jarryd Roughead took him under his wing, guiding him through the brown and gold banner with the team in front of a crowd of 56,000  people.

It couldn’t get any better.

Andrea watched on from the stands, tears of pride streaming down her face. Grandma Evelyn and twins Madison and Emily cheered louder than anyone, and Scott relished his coin toss role, formally marking the start of the game.

Harris family watching Riley

Young Riley entered the MCG as an excited but shy young boy. By the time he left, his head was held high, his face was beaming, and there was undoubtedly a strut in his step. A football, given as a gift from his new best friend Roughy, was tucked firmly under his arm. 

This was a day he will never forget.

Being part of a family means being part of a team. And great teams are at their best when they connect, talk and support each other. The Harris family has learnt from experience that the only way to make it through the tough days is to work as a team, and to support each other as much as they can.

Riley is still expected to need a few more operations, but he’s otherwise a healthy, strong little boy with big dreams for the future.

For your chance to WIN an amazing experience with Hawthorn Football Club and spend a great time with your family, visit Win a Hawks Family Day Out, before 31 July, 2017. 

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