Rock Hill schools, churches team up after 'angel's' death

05/17/2013 11:44 PM

05/18/2013 7:35 AM

The kindergarten teacher used the word “spunky.”

Other teachers of special needs students called Nyla Smith “feisty” and “tough.”

A bus driver called her an “angel.”

Nyla Smith did not endure 11 years of life after she was born with cerebral palsy. She did not watch life. She lived it, breathed it, laughed it, ate it, ran it and – when unable to walk – rolled it.

So when Nyla died May 11 at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte after three weeks in the hospital, those teachers and bus drivers and dozens of people who were part of Nyla’s life decided to help her family with burial expenses.

Nyla’s decline in the hospital was swift, after what her mother said was complications from MRSA, a bacterial infection resistant to many antibiotics.

Nyla was diagnosed with MRSA – Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – years ago and had to undergo surgery, said her mother, Nicole Love.

The infection was dormant for years but came back last month.

The people who knew Nyla wanted her life to be celebrated as much as her death is mourned.

Dozens of people will gather outside the Rock Hill school she attended, Finley Road Elementary, at 11 a.m. Saturday for a service for a child with special needs – who was, most importantly, special.

“Everybody who knew Nyla has just reached out and wanted to be a part of remembering her,” said Nicole Love, Nyla’s mother. “The teachers, the bus drivers who took her to school and home – everyone who knew that Nyla was beautiful inside and out.”

Special education teachers often forge closer bonds with their students than many teachers do because they are with those students closely for hours each day and help them with everything from learning to eating to using the bathroom.

These teachers are family.

Diane Duncan, Nyla’s kindergarten teacher years ago at Finley Road, said Nyla was a child no teacher could ever forget. Duncan’s church donated money; then another church jumped in, then the bus drivers and teachers, therapists and more.

“Nyla had that spunky spirit as far back as kindergarten,” said Duncan, who retired last year. “Anyone who met her was touched by her.”

Nyla had Martha Compton as a teacher later at Finley Road. Compton’s students this week made signs and signed their names to them and said Nyla was the greatest.

“Nyla could make people laugh; she was feisty,” Compton said. “She tried so hard.”

Enough money has been raised to put up a plaque at Finley Road honoring the “feisty” and “spunky” Nyla Smith so her memory will live on forever as part of the larger school family.

The past couple of years, Nyla was a student at York Road Elementary, and this year, she was in Megan Simmons’ class. The loss of Nyla has “devastated” people who knew her, Simmons said.

York Road is working on a memorial garden outside the special needs classrooms.

“We are all a family, and when you lose someone in the family, everybody is sad,” Simmons said. “Nyla was special.”

At the memorial service outside Finley Road Elementary on Saturday, there will be kids who can walk and kids who can’t. There will be wheelchairs and braces and kids who struggle against the disabilities each was born with or dealt in such short lives.

Those kids, and the adults who teach them, will not complain.

All will hold hands, and those can sing will sing because Nyla loved music. They will stay outside, because Nyla loved the outdoors. Balloons will be released into the sky.

A life that was so short will be remembered not for how brief it was, but for how feisty and spunky that short life was lived by the girl with cerebral palsy who did not complain.

A girl who smiled and laughed and sang and read and made the lives of those who met her a little bit better.

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