LIVINGSTON — James Post had never heard of Senator Richard Codey when he approached him at a restaurant in Sussex County four months ago. All he knew was that he was a politician who, given his stature, might be able to help his granddaughter, Jessica Riley, get the scoliosis surgery she needed.
Post’s instincts and persistence paid off as the former New Jersey governor and current senator in the state’s 27th district paved the way for Riley’s operation on May 26.
🎬📺 Free Movies and Free TV Shows! 🎭🎬
On Wednesday, at a small ceremony at Codey’s office in Livingston, the senator presented the family with a personal check covering the remaining costs of the medical procedure.
The surgery was pivotal in helping Riley of Hardyston and a 2021 graduate of Wallkill Valley Regional High School regain her quality of life after being diagnosed with scoliosis at age 14.
The condition started out relatively mild but gradually became more severe, and Riley often had to wear hard plastic braces to cope with the condition.
“I had to live with it every day. It was hard to get out of bed, it was hard to go to school,” she said. “The pain was just unbearable before the surgery.”
Codey learned of Riley’s plight in April when he visited Gemma’s Country Kitchen in Ogdensburg as part of a program to help local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Post approached the senator, he told him about Riley, the surgery she needed, and the costs not covered by insurance. The surgery, to be performed at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, would cost about $140,000. The family’s insurance companies have rejected numerous requests for coverage.
“When I got my final denial, I felt hopeless, desperate. I had no idea what we were going to do,” said Melissa Post, Riley’s mother. “I knew we had to do (the surgery), but I didn’t know how.”
‘Best Christmas Gift’:Cancer survivor gets surprise ceremony on last day of treatment
Charity:After her 7-year-old died of cancer, this mom planted a garden that grew into a charity
Codey, a grandfather himself, promised James Post that he would do everything he could to make his granddaughter’s surgery possible. The development was welcome news to Melissa Post when her father called her after the meeting.
“He called me and said, ‘You’ll never guess what just happened,’” Post said. “After that phone call, I finally had some hope that we would make some progress. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew something was going to happen.”
Codey immediately contacted the CEO of St. Peter’s University Hospital and President Les Hirsch, a close friend, to see what they could do about the situation. Within a week, the insurance company had approved Riley’s hospital stay, and a fundraiser previously organized by Melissa Post was enough for the down payment for the surgery.
Then came the surgery itself, a delicate procedure that involved opening Riley’s ribs and collapsing her lung to reach her spine. While it was successful, it also involved a difficult recovery period.
“This is quite an operation,” Codey said. “It’s not one and done and you’re running around the track the next day.”
Riley stayed in the hospital for a week after the surgery. A chest tube drained fluid from her lung, and an epidural made her recovery difficult when it came loose on the second day.
“I just remember I was in a lot of pain, connected to a lot of things,” Riley said. “When I got home, I got a little better, but it was really hard to get up alone, get out of bed, do pretty much everything. But when I got to that month, I really turned a corner, so I get a lot better now.”
With the pain almost all gone, Riley now looks ahead to starting her freshman year at Ramapo College in New Jersey. Fittingly, she’s going to study nursing and dreams of working one day at St. Peter’s, where she can care for patients with the same problems she once did.
“Since going through that, I feel like I owe it to people to be there for them,” Riley said. She added with a laugh: “So when they say, ‘You don’t understand,’ I really do.”
Kyle Morel can also be reached on Twitter: @KMorelNJH, on Facebook: Facebook.com/KMorelNJH, or by phone: 973-383-1292.