Riley Freemyer is fighting issues during COVID-19 that able-bodied people normally do not have to worry about. As the pandemic continues, Freemyer inspires others to keep moving forward with her positivity and people skills.

By: Kieron Kessler

According to academic advisor Craig Skinner, Webster may have its own Tony Stark. 

Skinner has developed a connection with Webster student Riley Freemyer which reflects her positivity and determination. 

“Riley is a really special, unique human being. While Riley is a member of many communities, she is a unique individual unto herself,” Skinner said. “When she pops up on my phone, her caller ID is Anthony Stark. She’s like my Tony Stark.”

The positivity Freemyer puts forth has been instrumental in helping her continue to keep her head up during COVID-19. Freemyer had to take precaution against the pandemic long before official stay-at-home orders. Despite facing challenges in being disabled during the pandemic, Riley shares the same positivity with others around her while also utilizing her position to make others aware of the challenges that currently affect people with disabilities. 

Freemyer faces issues with healthcare, doctor appointments and anxiety while she is forced to stay at home because she is immunocompromised. Important doctor appointments regarding her disability and correlated issues have had to be put off with no definite date and she has to rely on skype for checkups. Freemyer continues with positivity shining on the people that love her most.

Freemyer is having to hold off important appointments regarding her health. Due to her high risk of getting COVID-19, she is not able to meet face-to-face with doctors. 

“If I have a health emergency where I have to go to the ER, it is a seriously dangerous place to be treated right now, and sometimes — even with severe symptoms —it’s safer to stay home,” Freemyer said. 

Her grandmother Shirley Sanders remains impressed with Freemyer’s determination, whether it is regarding her disability or not. She notes that even through rough patches, Freemyer keeps her head up. 

“I am proud of her,” Sanders said. “She has stayed mostly positive in all respects.”

In 2019 Freemyer was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Other health issues with her heart, lungs and blood pressure followed the diagnosis. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a genetic mutation that would be considered a connective tissue disability. Freemyer was born with the disability and due to its rarity it took six years to diagnose. 

“I started having more severe problems, like consistent injuries and an increasing inability to walk or run like I used to around 12 years old and it got continuously worse from then on,” Freemyer said.

Hailey Barczewski has been best friends with Freemyer for 3 years. She is continuing to check up on her to make sure that everything is okay. According to Barczewski, Freemyer has anxiety regarding “end of the world” scenarios. She is worried not only about how Freemyer is doing physically, but also mentally and emotionally. 

Freemyer has to be cautious when certain illnesses start to spread rapidly. When COVID-19 was diagnosed in Missouri, she started staying home before able-bodied people were required to.

“I remember when we were in school and there was a really bad flu season. She had to wear a mask,” Barczewski said. “She has reasons to be very afraid of pandemics because she’s on the frontlines of being impacted.” 

While at home, Freemyer is using her time to be vocal on issues that affect people with disabilities during COVID-19. She knows how bad other people in the disabled community are being affected whether it comes to healthcare or hoarding of medical supplies. Freemyer says people often consider disabled people “acceptable losses.”  She also said the media is only helping to portray this.

“All these articles are directed towards healthy, able-bodied people, framed as: ‘Don’t panic! You’re safe! It’s just the vulnerable that are experiencing complications!’ just show that,” Freemyer said. “‘Just the vulnerable,’ as if our deaths don’t matter as much as theirs do. Then, they continue to go out – steal more supplies that they don’t know how to use – and spread the virus more, leading to more of our deaths.”

As these challenges continue, Freemyer is taking them head-on while at the same time astonishing the people around her with her positivity and perseverance.

As COVID-19 continues to keep Missouri in lockdown, Freemyer is reminded by others of how strong her personality is. The disability is only one detail compared to the makeup of Riley Freemyer. According to both Skinner and Barczewski, it is her strength and optimism that is embedded in her personality. Having such strong traits helps Freemyer overcome challenges like the ones caused by COVID-19. 

“To be honest, Riley is tough. She is positive and she is tough. The thing is she has a good attitude about it. She has a really, really good spirit about it,” Skinner said.