"This is to remember a boy named Ryan,” said fourth grader Bella Kaczmarzyk, 10, as her mother Stephanie prepared banana splits for her classmates at St. Peter’s School. “He’s not even 2 yet and he’s going to die, but it makes me happy that we are doing something good to remember him.”
Bella, along with her peers, indulged in banana splits last week not only to celebrate the end of the school year, but also to honor the life of Ryan Roberts, a 21-month-old toddler with Down syndrome who also suffers from multiple heart defects.
Stephanie learned about Ryan through Facebook a few weeks ago. She received an event invitation to “Ryan’s Banana Split Party,” which was started by Ryan’s loved ones, Melissa Doerfler Neidhardt and Melinda Sullivan Arlof, to spread awareness about the mission Ryan’s mother is on: to give her child as many memorable experiences as possible before he passes away.
Sadly, doctors who are treating him at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh have given him a few weeks to live. The hospital was contacted about Ryan’s status, but failed to return the call by press time.
“I think it’s special to do because he’ll be going to heaven pretty soon,” said Sean Fey-Mongeau, 10.
The event invitation, which can be found on Facebook by doing a Google search on “Ryan’s Banana Split Party,” has raised quite the stir around the world, as more than 215,000 people from throughout the globe have been invited to take part.
Further, 18,220 have already participated.
It reads, “Although he will not be able to have [a banana split,] I thought it would be nice if we could all have one for [Ryan,] whether you have children or not. Some night for dinner, have a banana split but take a picture and post it to Facebook so I can tag his mommy, Diane, so she can see all the people that are fulfilling her wish…and think of a special little boy while you're doing it.”
And that’s exactly what the fourth graders at St. Peter’s are doing.
“We’re doing this to spread the word about Ryan,” said Isabella Nadeau, 10.
Further, Stephanie said the other goal of the event is to teach children the importance of reaching out to others who have developmental disabilities or health problems.
Sara Langevin, 10, said it’s vital to socialize with people who have disabilities or health issues, “so they don’t feel left out. They are just like you and they are no different than anybody.”
Alex Higgins, 10, agreed and said, “They can do exactly what we do, they just have to take medicine.”
Alyssa Richard, 9, offered advice to people who are uncomfortable talking to individuals with disabilities and said, “I would tell them that it’s OK because they are the same as you, it’s just harder for them to learn.”
For Stephanie, the event hits a personal chord, as like Ryan’s mother, she also has a toddler with Down syndrome. Luckily, she said her daughter Emilia was born without any heart conditions.
“At least 60 percent of these kids are born with heart defects and need surgery,” Stephanie said. Of the event, she said, “I hope the children learn that it’s important for them not to shy away from a person who has Down syndrome or a disability. It’s OK to face that person and say, ‘Hey. What’s up?’ And I hope they associate a banana split with this little boy. His story is a great way to incorporate fun with awareness.”
Fourth grade teacher Meghan Kane agreed.
“I think it’s important especially at this time of year because we’re celebrating the end of the school year and the beginning of the summer and sometimes we take small things for granted,” she said. “It’s nice to combine our joy and excitement with people in need. We really try to focus on helping others who are in need at this school.”