Community sends support to special teen

Photos by: Special to the Delaware State News /Doug Curran

Editor’s note: April Gray Bradford has posted on Facebook that Ryan Bradford has passed away. 

DOVER — The 80 miles that separate Dover’s Legislative Mall and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia were no match for the love that a gathering of more than 100 friends and community members were sending to Ryan Bradford on Sunday evening.

Ryan, 18, remains in critical condition at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia after his family’s home in Magnolia sustained significant damage in a fire last Thursday.

The fire happened on Orange Street in Paris Villa. Firefighters from the Magnolia Fire Company were able to rescue Ryan from the burning home but not before he suffered from severe smoke inhalation.

Offering their support and prayers for the Bradford family, members of the Kent County Wild Kats Special Olympics team that Ryan was a part of — and dozens of other community members — gathered for a candlelight vigil to send strength to Ryan and his family.

One individual sent live video of the vigil to the family gathered in Philadelphia.

Dave Manwiller, the area director for Special Olympics Delaware, led off the vigil with an emotional speech talking about the difficult battle that Ryan and his parents, April and Ryan Bradford Sr., are facing.

“All you can do is pray,” Mr. Manwiller said. “Whatever God you believe in you can pray. It’s in nobody’s hands now but his and all you can do is pray. It’s in the hands of somebody much stronger than us right now.

“The doctors are doing everything they possibly can to keep Ryan going. I think at this point they’ve done everything medical science knows and now it’s in charge for our God to take over. It’s in your hands to ask God to make this how it needs to be.”

Manwiller went on to say how much Special Olympics means to Ryan and how he could always be seen at soccer games tagging along with his father, who is an official.

He also said that Ryan won a gold medal in softball at the University of Delaware just a couple of weeks ago. He was having health issues at the time but served as a bat boy and anything else he could do to help out his teammates.

“He was as much a part of the team as everybody else and he was very proud of that gold medal,” Mr. Manwiller said. “It wouldn’t have mattered if it was a gold medal, a fourth-place ribbon, or whatever, he’d have been proud of it. And he was always proud to be a [Caesar Rodney] Rider.”

Alex Brathwaite led the crowd in prayer as he recited “The Lord’s Prayer” and Jordan Little sang “Go the Distance” from the movie “Hercules.” Ryan loves watching Disney movies.

Everyone at the gathering then lit candles and sent positive thoughts to the Bradford family, ending with a chant of “Ryan! Ryan! Ryan!” sent to him and his family.

The moment was particularly moving for Dover’s Haydee Rivera, who taught Ryan for three years at Postlethwait Middle School. She said Ryan’s strength and outlook on life have helped her as she has been battling brain cancer the past couple of years.

“Ryan was extremely social,” Ms. Rivera said. “He was so social and he never looked at his disabilities as a negative thing. He also taught me a lot about brain cancer. His strength and happiness gave me strength with my own disease.

“I remember I taught him Latin Dance and he refused to take anything else except my Latin Dance. He would lead my class dancing in the hallways doing the Cha-Cha and Salsa. He didn’t care who he danced with. I loved his spirit.”

Jillian Mathews is a teammate of Ryan’s on the Kent County Wild Kats.

“Ryan was actually in this Special Olympics International Program called ‘Communicate with Confidence’ with me and he and I both graduated,” she said. “He’s a really great athlete. Special Olympics programs are really important to me and I don’t like feeling the pain like when something happens to my fellow athletes.”

Mr. Manwiller said that Special Olympics has already raised more than $6,000 for the Bradford family and that the journey is just getting started.

“Down the road the family is going to need your support no matter what happens,” he said. “The family is going to need your support for a long time. They have to rebuild, but that’s not a major concern right now.

“Right now, the concern and prayers are for Ryan.”

Special Olympics
sets up fund for Ryan

Special Olympics Delaware has created a fund to help the Bradford family.

“The Bradford family has been an integral part of our Special Olympics Delaware family for many years,” Special Olympics Delaware said in the statement. “As members of the Kent Wild Kats, Dad Ryan and Mom April are coaches in basketball and soccer; daughter Katelyn is a unified partner and coach as well.”

Special Olympics Delaware said it will cover all administrative costs associated with the contributions made through a FirstGiving iving website.

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