Make-A-Wish restoration

Riley “Ford” Liberto gives a thumbs up on his 1995 Ford F-150 restoration by Princeton business, 4 Wheel Mike’s.

PRINCETON — Riley “Ford” Liberto, 18, received his most desired wish of having his 1995 Ford F-150 restored.

With the help of Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia and 4 Wheel Mike’s, Liberto’s Ford F-150, “Quake,” received major updates.

“When I saw [the truck], it was in pretty bad shape. It needed a lot of love. The motor, the transmission, the transfer case, everything was sitting in the bed of the truck torn apart,” says Mike Ray, owner of 4 Wheel Mike’s, in a phone interview.

To start the restoration process, Ray talked with Liberto on what modifications he wanted done on “Quake” — a name that resembles an earthquake because it is a straight pipe truck.

“He was thinking of the outside and the running of the truck, just making it roadworthy again,” Ray says. To dig a little deeper into some of Liberto’s wish list items, Ray began asking him questions regarding other aspects of the truck, such as the interior.

According to Sam Liberto, Riley Liberto’s father, Riley has automotive in his blood. His grandfather was a Ford dealer.

“It was important for him when he turned 16 to have a Ford,” says Sam Liberto, in a phone interview. He went on to say they located the F-150 in 2017 when he turned 16, purchased it, and the truck broke down three months later.

Riley Liberto attended A.W. Beattie Career Center where he studied automotive vocational tech to prepare for college.

“They worked on it there . . . they did as much as they could,” Sam Liberto said. But with a number of limitations, they could only do so much work on the truck. Riley Liberto worked on the truck at the career center for about six months.

Riley Liberto’s Make-A-Wish journey began during an appointment and a conversation with his nephrologist, kidney doctor, and hospital staff.

“You could instantly see the spark in Ford — in hindsight, he clearly wasn’t feeling well as his young body was failing him but the thought of his dream truck restored and him behind the wheel again gave him something to look forward to. It was all that he could think of and talk about,” says Jill Liberto, Ford’s mother, in an email interview.

Once Make-A-Wish was contacted and the process started, 4 Wheel Mike’s was contacted to see if they could do the necessary refurbishments.

Ray confirmed that he could refurbish the truck and then made the trip to Pittsburgh to pick up the truck from the Liberto’s.

He worked on the truck for about a year, working with several other vendors for paint, carpet, seats, rebuilt or hard to find parts and other items to make the necessary repairs.

“I got a big heart . . . [this] is a way to bring a smile to their face and give them what they are wanting. That’s worth it to me,” says Ray.

The July 1 reveal is said to have been filled with a lot of excitement and disbelief. In fact, Sam Liberto says that Ford ran out of words to describe the experience, quoting Ford as saying, “I can’t say the word great anymore.”

“The pure joy on his face when he pulled up in his truck on 1 July…His smile was a mile wide and he radiated happiness. His wish had finally come true,” says Jill Liberto.

Ford was diagnosed with Congenital Nephrotic Syndrome at nine months old. This meant Ford’s kidney could not keep necessary proteins, hindering his kidneys from working properly. On November 12, 2003, at 26 months, Ford underwent a successful living — donor kidney transplant. His mother, Jill, was his donor.

“The transplant cured his condition and he continued to grow and thrive with the aid of daily medication to preserve his “new” kidney,” says J. Liberto.

Over time, Ford began showing signs of rejection. The doctors told the family that Ford needed to go on the transplant list. On December 18, 2018, at the age of 17, Ford underwent his second kidney transplant.

“It was truly a Christmas miracle. We didn’t know anything about the person we dubbed our kidney angel at the time but couldn’t wait to thank him/her for saving our son’s life,” said J. Liberto.

The Liberto family expressed numerous times their gratitude for 4 Wheel Mike’s and the numerous vendors and what they were able to do for them and their son.

“We are humbled and forever grateful to 4Wheel Mike and his family for their extraordinary efforts and to Make-A-Wish for facilitating the experience,” says J. Liberto.

“We can’t say enough how grateful we are to Make-A-Wish and Mike and all the vendor partners, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) for making this happen. And thank you,” says S. Liberto.

For more information about Make-A-Wish, please visit wv.wish.org or  call 800.664.9474. To donate to Make-A-Wish, please visit greaterpawv.wish.org/donate.

Heather Hamilton is a freelance reporter for the Princeton Times. Contact her at hmhjournalism91@gmail.com

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