Man-ing Up With Manny

By; Pat Hegewald


The story of Manny Rios is a relatively familiar one in Kenosha, WI.  In this tight knit community of 100K people, it seems most everyone knows Manny to some degree.  The story of his health, his battles and subsequent surgeries with his heart, the complications associated with all of his medical challenges, they are all true and all a continual work in progress.  Seems like every person knows him, or knows his family, or someone that was a health care professional working with him.  I personally knew his uncle Freddy Rios decades before Manny’s arrival, having played against him in softball leagues for years. Well for all of you that do or do not know him, this is an update from just another one of Manny’s adoring public.

We met Manny at Peanut Butter and Jam through Kris “Nightmare” Ray several years ago.  I personally was a little freaked not really knowing much about a kid that was hauling around an oxygen tank.  Manny indoctrinated himself into our circle in about 15 minutes.  The Rios family happen to be some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet, so they eased into the circle even easier than Manny.  And we hung out on Thursdays.  Manny was monitored constantly.  He rarely left the circle and you could tell he was a sick little man.  He did his best to be a normal kid, but he wasn’t a normal kid so he did what he could.  I remember the first time I saw him run like 10 feet…I was nervous..seemed like everyone was.

Manny and his family took a couple summers off from PBnJ off because he was busy doing a few little things in his personal life including getting a new heart.  But the moral of the story is, Manny is back!  And Manny is back not as an older version of the Manny we met, but a Manny that acts and moves and lives much more like an early teenager.  And that is a beautiful thing.  A few weeks back, after he’d been playing over in that open area in front of the fountain, he came and sat on my perch.  As usual, I had to put my arm around him.  My response..”dude, you are just a nasty, sweaty little ball of heat”.  And he looked at me and smiled, because he WAS a nasty, sweaty little ball of heat…like a kid his age should be after running around for an hour playing with other kids his age. This past week I literally saw him for maybe 3 minutes.  If I were him, I too would opt for mobile teenagers over a broken down old man for entertainment.  I got a hug goodbye, that was plenty.

Manny’s mom Anna sits her chair facing the area where Manny plays, and while it is obvious she is never “off the clock”, she gives him space to test his health and to enjoy his mobility.  Rest assured, she is never at a loss concerning his whereabouts and condition.  And while my knowledge of the development of Manny is relegated to Thursdays in the summer and the occasional crossing of paths, I can say with guarded optimism that Manny is doing well.  As my family learned almost 4 years ago, when it comes to the health of a child, one should subscribe to the “preemie code”: he is doing good….today!  That is what I hope for concerning my buddy Manny, that he has a good day…today.  The kid has been through 20 miles of crap in his life so far, I hope today is smooth road.

Anyone that knows me personally knows I am the last guy that would be wanting to put my mug on a story on my website.  No one wants that!  But for Manny (Manolo, Manuel, Manifesto, Manufacturer), somehow it don’t seem like such a stretch.  Manny does that to ya.  Those that know him are already well aware of that fact.  He is now doing Try-athalons and I know Anna mentioned something coming up in the fall that may need funds raised.  If that is the case, you will hear from me again.  I try to pick and choose what I endorse because there are many worthy causes.  Manny’s needs will be endorsed. He’s got some catching up to do.

So be optimistic.  Hug Manny if you know him and see him.  Introduce yourself to him if you don’t already know him.  If you pray, toss in a good word for my buddy…can’t possibly hurt.  Manny Rios is a rare kid, and it is great to have him and his family back in the PBnJ circle.  And the less I see of his sweaty little nasty hot self, on Thursday’s in the summer, the better I feel because I know he is off being a kid.