Burkette leaves legacy of love

Published 6:33 pm Wednesday, November 30, 2005

By By Janet Little Cooper
Ryan Burkette dreamed of being a paramedic.
He had been a passenger in an ambulance more times than most kids his age.
"Most people think of an ambulance as something bad and want no part of it," Mark Burkette, Ryan's father said. "But not Ryan, he loved riding in the ambulance. He loved everything about it."
Yesterday, Ryan took his last ride with his friends at Kelley's Ambulance Service. The paramedics carried the young 15-year-old from the funeral home to his final resting place in Mothershed Cemetery.
Patrick Ryan Burkette died on Friday, Nov. 25, 2005 from complications stemming from cerebral palsy. Friends and family gathered yesterday at the First United Methodist Church to celebrate and honor this young boys life.
Ryan was born on Feb. 11, 1990 in Tallassee, Fla. He was born two months premature and suffered from hydrocephalus, water on the brain that eventually led to cerebral palsy. Doctors placed a shunt in his head to drain the fluid, which according to his father, Matt is common in that situation.
"The cerebral palsy manifested itself when he was two to three months old," Burkette said, "The doctors told us that he would probably never walk or talk. I told him that he didn't know that. Ryan did walk and he did talk. He would wear you out talking. He was very smart – he just had a broken body."
Ryan had numerous surgeries throughout his life to replace the shunts and for other procedures. In his early years of life, Ryan was completely mobile getting around with the help of a walker. He also had use of his right arm and hand at that time.
As he grew, his legs began to lose their mobility making him wheelchair bound.
"He had ankle surgery, knee surgery, joint surgeries and hip surgery," Burkette said. "He had a tremendous amount of medical issues and his mother and I became his legs."
Despite those medical issues, Ryan never let them interfere with the quality of his life. He began school at Rachel Patterson in kindergarten and moved all the way through to the completion of the sixth grade at Escambia County Middle School before going back home two years ago due to deteriorating health.
According to his father, Ryan met one of the many people who became special friends to the young boy when he first started attending school.
"He became big buddies with Buck Powell (Superintendent of Schools)," Burkette said. "Buck helped Ryan out so much in school."
Alabama State Trooper Jimmy Dean was another one of Ryan's special friends. Trooper Dean would allow Ryan to sit in his car and play with the sirens. He also gave Ryan one of his hats to wear. Trooper Dean was present at yesterday's service to lead the procession in the same car that Ryan loved to play in so much.
The crew from Kelley's Ambulance proudly served as honorary pallbearers in his service – just as proudly as Ryan served them as an honorary paramedic.
"We had been transporting him over the years," Wanda Smith, paramedic with Kelley's Ambulance said. "Ryan latched onto me. He told me one day when we were carrying him to Birmingham that he wanted to be a paramedic just like me. I gave him my paramedic hat and then on his birthday we gave him a shirt just like ours that said, "Ryan" and "Honorary Paramedic" underneath. That little boy just stole my heart. He was a precious young man. Ryan was always smiling no matter what and was always happy. There is nothing he wouldn't attempt to do. He had a full and wonderful life."
Another Kelley's paramedic, Susan Odom, was so taken by young Ryan, that she gave him her national registry pass that allows her to work in all states as a paramedic.
According to his family, Ryan was as active a kid as you would ever find. He didn't let anything hold him back. The family thought of him as Superman for his strength and courage each day.
" He loved to go hunting with us," Burkette said. "He loved to water ski and ride a jet ski and he loved horse back riding. Ryan went to a summer camp for cerebral palsy patients every year. It was an outdoor camp that enabled them to participate in activities that they may not be able to elsewhere. He always loved it."
The Mobile Chapter of United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) was instrumental in Ryan's life and that of his families. Ryan's father, Mark is a member of the board for the Mobile chapter and credits them for playing a big part in Ryan's life.
Ryan is the son of Mark and Blaire Burkette of Atmore. He has a sister, Erin who is 10 months older than he and a younger brother, Marshall.
"Erin and Ryan were always very close. Erin treated Ryan like he was her baby and they maintained that relationship his whole life. I will miss him tremendously, but I know he is with the Father and I am going to see him again. Everything he ever wanted to do, he is doing now. I knew that he was hurting, but despite the pain and problems he was always happy and never complained. One of the things we noticed in the pictures we got together for the funeral home was that he was smiling in them all. It is hard to get a kid to smile for a camera. Not Ryan, he was smiling in them all. He touched so many people. Everyone he met, remembered him. I believe the Father gives us all jobs to do and Ryan's job was to teach people to love."

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