"Riley was born on May 6, 2005 at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She was two weeks early but her dad and I could not wait for her to arrive. Riley was a sweet baby but she did not like to sleep. We tried every trick in the book to get her to sleep through the night ; including, swaddling her and rocking her rhythmically while listening to a hair dyer, letting her sleep in her car seat and leaving her in the infant swing all night. This is the complete opposite of Riley as a 9 year old as she is now a wonderful sleeper who often doesn't wake up before 10am on the weekends"

- Mackenzie Sandler, Riley's mom and co-founder of Riley's Way

"Riley went to her first summer at sleep-away camp at Timber Lake Camp, and was in the process of having the summer of her life. My wife, Mackenzie, and I were in bed the night before Riley was supposed to come home and we got a phone call saying we need you to get up here. I ended up going on a four hour Uber ride and was texting with Mindy Jacobs, co-owner of Timber Lake. Mindy was with Riley and we were trying to understand what was going on. By the time I got to the hospital in Albany, Riley was gone. My wife followed a few hours behind me and the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life was tell her what happened.

The short answer is that we’re never going to truly know what happened. We were told it was something called Epiglottitis, which is when your epiglottis in your throat constricts. It’s something that everybody gets vaccinated for, and it's just not something that really happens anymore. We had made some decisions once we got to the hospital in terms of trying to donate Riley’s organs, and were told that if we did, we would never truly find out what happened. But we made the decision that Riley, who was so full of life, could give some parts of her to others.

Literally in the hospital room with Riley, we started working with friends, and lawyers, and friends of friends to get our story out and to get online. The outpouring of support was the best in people. People we knew and tons of people who just heard what happened made donations and we found ourselves with a Foundation and no idea what we were going to do. A couple of months after this happened, we got our first board together. We brainstormed what we could do, and Paul Burke, head of The Nightingale-Bamford School where Riley went, kept focusing on friendship and kept highlighting what a wonderful friend Riley was. It became very clear this wasn’t going to be about what happened to Riley, it was going to be about who she was and the fact that this little girl took her friends’ successes as her own and there was joy in meeting new people and joy in connecting two of her friends in different worlds and letting them be friends.

When I talk to anyone who anyone who lost a child, you belong to a horrible, miserable club that nobody wants to be a part of. But as you progress in your time, you realize that there are mechanisms to make the pain less, that there are ways to honor them, and that there's a path forward if you’re able to find it."

- Ian Sandler, proud father of Riley Hannah Sandler and co-founder of Riley's Way

"Always have a smile on your face"
Meet Riley


Riley is such a sweet and thoughtful girl. She is a wonderful friend to those who know her and is definitely a people person! One of her favorite things to do is make up dances either with friends or on her own. She can often be seen twirling down the streets as she perfects her latest dance moves. Riley also loves to listen to music and go to concerts. She would listen to music 24 hours a day if I weren't around to tell her to turn it off.

Riley is also extremely creative. She comes up with amazing ideas and I am always impressed with how she manages to to put them into action. She has designed all sorts of clothing pieces and makes houses for her stuffed animals out of cardboard boxes and other recycled materials. Whenever I think she can't possibly build what she has described to me, she always proves me wrong! The down side to this is that Riley's room is filled with cardboard boxes that I would love to throw away. No garbage is safe from Riley!

Riley is one of a kind and the best daughter a mother could ask for. I love her with all my heart and hope she knows just how special she is!