Destiny’s homecoming: First responders, citizens surprise family with parade

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer 

PELHAM — A homecoming parade like none other welcomed 9-year-old Destiny Riekeberg and family back to their Pelham home following a months-long stay in Children’s of Alabama.

Destiny was admitted to the hospital shortly after Christmas break, after multiple trips to the pediatrician revealed a rare form of liver cancer. Further complications kept her from being able to return home.

But it was daily goal setting, a drive to survive, keeping the faith and celebrating all the little victories along the way that ultimately helped bring Destiny home, indicated her father, Dustin Riekeberg. The latest victory was the trip home itself, which restored a much-needed sense of normalcy to the family—particularly during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

“She had no fear,” Dustin Riekeberg said. “Talk about a kid that’s 9 years old who looks at a needle and says, ‘Don’t count, just do it.’”

Riekeberg, who works in sales, likened his daily sales strategy to the way he approached each day with Destiny in the hospital—dividing the day up into relatively small, attainable goals and turning each win into momentum going forward.

“I did that every single night we were in the hospital,” he said.

Finally, on Monday, April 27, Destiny’s heart rate, blood pressure and pain management had reached the point that she could return home, and just a day later she sat in the backseat on the way back to Pelham.

Riekeberg recalled seeing his daughter in the rearview mirror on the way home and being overcome with a sense of normalcy that he hadn’t felt in a long time.

“It just brought me back to every ride we’ve had in our vehicle. It was as if she was cancer-free,” he said, adding that he told his wife Lacretia it was the second happiest day of his life behind the day Destiny was born.

Spirits were lifted even higher as family, friends, neighbors, first responders and fellow citizens drove by the house in a special homecoming parade to greet Destiny as she looked on from the front porch. Adults and children waved and held signs with the hashtag #DestinyStrong, and fire trucks and patrol cars flashed their lights.

“She’s home,” announced an excited Lacretia Riekeberg in a Facebook post Tuesday. “Thank you to the sweethearts who decorated the driveway and house!”

One of the fire trucks even played a song Destiny likes to dance along to on TikTok—at Pelham Ridge Elementary, Destiny is known for competing in multiple sports including cheerleading and competitive dance.

“It was incredible and it was perfect timing,” Dustin said. “She was on cloud nine. All night you couldn’t take away the smile on her face.”

Obviously, Tuesday night was a big transition for the family because for the first time there were no nurses nor doctors walking in and out of Destiny’s bedroom.

But Riekeberg expressed reassurance that the doctors and nurses at Children’s trained the couple to be physically and mentally ready to provide home care.

“The job didn’t get easier, it got harder by bringing her home,” he admitted. “You’ve just got to have the mental stamina to want it, and there is nobody that wants her to be cured more than her mother and I.

“We are prepared for this moment.”

Riekeberg said two “magic moments” must happen for Destiny to become cancer-free. First, a procedure called radioembolization (or the Y90 procedure) must shrink the tumor; and second, surgery must successfully remove it.

In preparation he tries to approach every day with a “full tank” of energy, strength, optimism and faith.

“The tank’s got to be full every day,” he said. “Her story’s not over; it’s just beginning. She’s going to be something special.”

To read the first story that appeared in the Shelby County Reporter about Destiny, visit Shelbycountyreporter.com/2020/02/24/destiny-strong-pelham-girl-battles-rare-form-of-liver-cancer/