Former St. Jude patient gets sneak peek at plane to bear his name

Published: Aug. 3, 2022 at 6:47 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2022 at 7:36 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - You might have been wondering why traffic was moving so slowly on I-240 Eastbound Wednesday morning.

That’s because a special showpiece was transported to TPC Southwind for the Fed Ex St. Jude Championship Golf Tournament.

The FedEx Express St. Jude Purple Eagle plane landed in Memphis early Thursday morning.

Riley, 5, was on hand to get a sneak peek of the plane before the official unveiling next week.

The plane is named after former St. Jude patient, Riley, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia three years ago when he was just 18 months old.

“I noticed that Riley was being a little fussy, just not himself, so I took him to the doctor. And the doctor said he has an ear infection,” said Riley’s mother, Taylor Raney.

That diagnosis later turned into cancer.

“Definitely a whirlwind for sure, whirlwind of emotions, and just what’s the next phase? What do we do next,” said Riley’s father, Brennan Raney.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was next, and after more than two years of intense treatment, Riley’s parents say he’s doing excellent.

“You can never tell that anything has ever been in his way,” said Taylor Raney.

Wednesday, Riley got a sneak peek at what thousands of Golf fans will soon see on display at TPC Southwind, the FedEx St. Jude Purple Eagle plane bearing his name.

Leave it to a logistics company to handle all the heavy lifting; after Riley’s family got their first glimpse at FedEx Corporate Aviation,

the wingless bird got a police escort down I-240 to Winchester, En route to the golf course.

Once on its own platform, crews went to work reassembling the plane for display.

“I hope Riley grows up to appreciate what everybody has done for him,” said Riley’s grandmother Kim Raney. “I hope he just follows his dreams,” said Raney.

Each year a St. Jude Research Hospital patient with a connection to FedEx is honored with the Purple Eagle presentation.

33 -year FedEx Express team member Kim Raney nominated her grandson for the honor three years ago.

Riley joins nine other former recipients who will all return during the FedEx St. Jude Championship for a special celebration.

“Well, we started small ten years ago. And you know, again, it was for the kids to bring awareness to the hospital,” said Bill West Jr, vice president of supplemental aircraft operations at FedEx Express.

“Just the fact that they are all coming back. It’s kind of a miracle really” said West.

West has been there from the very beginning; making it to the 10th plane is something special.

Raising awareness about a hospital that has changed so many lives, like Riley’s - whose name will hopefully inspire others for years to come.

Riley’s plane will sport his name under the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital logo for the duration of the plane’s time in service.

There are nearly 300 feeder turboprop airplanes in the FedEx Express fleet, but only 10 bear the name of former St. Jude Patients.

We’ll have special coverage of the FedEx St. Jude championship all next week here on Action News 5, including live broadcasts from the golf course starting Aug. 11.

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