Schenectady County

Sa’fyre growing stronger every day

One year ago, Sa’fyre was in a coma at Westchester Medical Center, with burns covering 75 percent of
Sa'Fyre Terry, 6, center, climbs on a jungle gym behind her Rotterdam home with twins Jasmine and Jacob Dolder, 6, on Wednesday.
Sa'Fyre Terry, 6, center, climbs on a jungle gym behind her Rotterdam home with twins Jasmine and Jacob Dolder, 6, on Wednesday.

Progress reports

Liz Dolder used Facebook to keep family and friends updated on her niece Sa’fyre Terry’s progress through the past 12-plus months. She allowed The Sunday Gazette to reprint excerpts of those posts charting Sa’fyre’s miraculous recovery.

May 2, 2013

Please, we need your prayers Facebook family. My Brother Dave Terry and three of his children, one of them my Layah (who I raised since birth) all died in a fire this morning. My niece is in critical condition at Westchester Medical Burn Center. Please, I beg you to pray for my family.

June 1

Have I ever let you all know what an amazing, brave, courageous, strong, wonderful, child Sa’fyre is? I call her my light in the darkness. She keeps me strong and focused. She has a life-long challenging road ahead of her and I know she will do it with her head held high. She had her fifth operation yesterday and they did a lot on her. She is so amazing. She showed me signs of response. Please keep Sa’fyre in your prayers she is a miracle. THANK YOU

June 4

Sa’fyre has been breathing on her own since our visit with her Saturday. She is no longer on the ventilator. This is a big milestone for her. She has been breathing on her own for over 48 hours, which is amazing. THANK YOU ALL FOR PRAYING FOR HER. I BEG YOU NOT TO STOP PRAYING SHE STILL HAS A LONG WAY TO GO. WITH GOD AND THE POWER OF PRAYER SHE CAN GET THROUGH THIS.

June 11

I went to see Sa’fyre yesterday she was alert. It absolutely tears me apart when I have to leave her. She teared up several times. She is only able to communicate by squeezing her toes around my finger. … PLEASE CONTINUE YOUR PRAYERS FOR SA’FYRE, She is bearing more than any person should bear in a lifetime. She is only a 5 year old child, with amazing SUPER PRINCESS POWER STRENGTH passed down to her from her father.

July 11

Had a great visit with Sa’fyre yesterday. The best yet. She was super alert. We helped with her physical therapy and she did amazing. We put her on the edge of the bed. And I finally got to wrap my arms around her and hug her and we both cried together. She was such a trooper. She was able to kick the ball by raising her leg 2-3 inches and she listened to verbal commands, which is totally awesome because we don’t know what damage, if any, the cerebral hypoxia has caused. Every little inch that she can move by herself is like a mile to us. … GOD please we don’t want Sa’fyre to lose anymore than she already has. Please lay your healing hand on her and protect her and keep her comforted.

Sept. 4

Sa’fyre had a wonderful 6th birthday party in her hospital room. All the nurses, burn team, Merlin’s Miracles, Child Life, and her OT & PT therapists came with love and gifts for her. Sa’fyre was dressed up like the princess she is, complete with dress, crown, sash and wand. Tons of balloons. She had a great time, full of smiles. Sa’fyre was blowing kisses and gave princess hand waves. Also, she got her first taste of food in over 4 months. Sa’fyre had a tiny nibble of a cupcake. AMAZING DAY PURE JOY TO SEE HER SO HAPPY. I wanna send out a huge THANK YOU to Birthday Sprinkles, Inc. for their help. Sa’fyre’s father (Dave my wonderful brother) would be so happy. He is shining down on her. PLEASE CONTINUE TO PRAY FOR HER RECOVERY.

Nov. 24

Home again. Had the most amazing two days with Sa’fyre. She just leaves me breathless. I heard her talk for the first time since this tragedy. She said “Hi, Liz” and “OK.” … Her strength and determination to get better are unwavering. She also said “I love you” as I was leaving. Feeling totally blessed. THANK YOU GOD AND ALL OF YOU FOR YOUR AMAZING PRAYERS AND SUPPORT.

Dec. 1

Thank you for all your wonderful birthday wishes. (heart) Sa’fyre had her first taste of ice cream and she loved it. She also had a tea party… Sa’fyre is making huge strides at such a rapid rate. I am in awe at all she is achieving. It brings tears of joy to my eyes. THANK YOU GOD AND ALL OF YOU FOR YOUR PRAYERS (heart)

Feb. 22, 2014

Sa’fyre is HOME. She came home on Wednesday. When she saw her room she said “I LOVE IT.“ Thank you to all that helped and prayed for us.

April 12

For the first time in 345 days Sa’fyre is not wearing a bandage dressing. … Sa’fyre is so excited she keeps chanting “No more dressing. No more dressing.” I am overwhelmed with emotion. Praise GOD.

Two 6-year-old girls got off the school bus and headed to the clubhouse in the backyard. They climbed up the half-dozen rungs of the ladder, one moving a little slower than the other.

The girls are cousins, Jasmine Dolder and Sa’fyre Terry. Sa’fyre’s the slower one, but the fact that she’s climbing at all is amazing.

One year ago, Sa’fyre was in a coma at Westchester Medical Center, with burns covering 75 percent of her body. The fire Sa’fyre was injured in was set by an arsonist. It took the lives of her father and three siblings.

“From being right at death’s door, she’s come quite a ways in such a short period of time,” her uncle, Michael Dolder, said.

The little girl is walking, talking, going to school and climbing up to a clubhouse to play teacher.

“For her to come home in under a year is absolutely incredible,” said her aunt, Liz Dolder.

Sa’fyre is now living in Rotterdam with the Dolders,

who shared their niece’s story of recovery with The Sunday Gazette. Joining them was Shirley Armour — known as “Grandma Shirl” — Sa’fyre’s great aunt. Armour accompanied the Dolders on their many trips to Westchester Medical Center’s burn unit to be with the little girl during her long recovery.

“Her coming as far as she did, that’s like a miracle,” Armour said. “She’s our survivor. Everything. They told us there were certain things she wasn’t going to be able to do, but she’s proven them all wrong.”

Prayers answered

Sa’fyre’s journey began early one peaceful morning last May. The little girl, often described as her father’s princess, was asleep in his apartment on Hulett Street in Schenectady with her three siblings, Layah Terry, 3, Michael Terry, 2, and 11-month-old Donavan Duell.

An arsonist struck around 4:30 a.m., setting a fire in the front stairwell that spread quickly. The investigation into the identity of the arsonist continues.

Layah, Michael and Donavan all perished, as did their father, 32-year-old David Terry. In her father’s arms — shielded from the ferocious flames — Sa’fyre was found by firefighters. She was alive.

Firefighters rushed her to a waiting ambulance, and she was sent by helicopter to Westchester Medical Center with horrific burns.

In those first days, Liz Dolder said, they didn’t know if Sa’fyre would survive, much less overcome the challenges she would face if she did pull through. They concentrated on making the little girl comfortable.

As family and friends laid David, Layah, Michael and Donavan to rest, the awful prospect loomed that they would have to go through one more funeral. Liz Dolder — David Terry’s sister — kept friends and family updated on Sa’fyre’s condition with Facebook posts. She frequently attached pleas for prayers.

“Prayers got us through this,” Dolder said. “I think that’s exactly what got us through this. God was on our side. God was with her. I honestly believe that there’s power in prayer.”

There were little victories at first. Fevers came and went. There were early surgeries.

Then the bandaged little girl began responding to verbal commands. By June 8, she could respond by wiggling some fingers and toes. She opened her eyes and was able to track movement.

On July 11 — more than two months after the fire — Dolder reported being able to wrap her arms around her niece for the first time. They cried together.

In early September, the girl named for a precious stone celebrated her birthday by blowing kisses and giving princess waves to those gathered. She had her first solid food in more than four months — a tiny nibble of cupcake.

By November, the tears of July had turned to laughter.

“Had a super awesome visit with Sa’fyre today,” her aunt wrote Nov. 4. “We had such a blast. She was laughing hard. I was too. I haven’t laughed like that in a while.”

By February, Sa’fyre was ready to leave the hospital and go home with the Dolders. Liz and Michael Dolder had earlier taken in another of David Terry’s children, Layah, who died in the fire.

Liz would often take Layah to her father’s so she could spend the night with her dad. The night of the fire was one of those nights.

“He used to be my pest, drive me absolutely crazy,” Liz recalled of her brother growing up. “But then he became my hero.”

Friends and family members had nicknamed David Terry “Superman.” But he couldn’t save everyone. Liz Dolder lost her brother, two nephews and a niece that had become her daughter that night.

Losing a child was something Dolder already knew too well. Three years earlier, in 2010, she lost her 18-year-old daughter, Kayla, to an infection. Dolder said she became reclusive after Kayla passed away, focusing on her twins, Jacob and Jasmine, born in 2007, and Layah.

Since the fire, her energies have been focused in a new direction.

“I call her my little light in the darkness,” Dolder said of Sa’fyre.

Getting stronger

Since coming home, the Dolders say, Sa’fyre has blossomed, despite the permanent physical impacts of the fire. Last July, two months after the fire, she lost the fight to save her right hand. She also lost some of her toes.

She’s had constant surgeries in the past year and will continue to do so as she grows older. Skin grafts don’t grow as a child grows.

Sa’fyre was righthanded and has had to relearn tasks using her left hand. Playing teacher in the backyard clubhouse, Sa’fyre held a large piece of chalk in her left hand, steadying it with her right arm.

Her aunt and uncle have to know when to help their niece and when to let her do things herself. A few weeks after Sa’fyre came home, Liz Dolder decided she was ready to dress herself. Sa’fyre, who has a stubborn streak, was convinced she couldn’t.

Dolder put out her clothes and stepped out of sight.

“Then, all of a sudden, like five minutes later, 10 minutes later, she said ‘I’m done.’ ” Dolder recounted. “It’s unbelievable. Sometimes you’ve just got to give her that little nudge.”

Sa’fyre also eats a lot. As a burn victim, her metabolism is high. She loves Pringles, Cheese-Its and Goldfish, and she’s put on 3 1/2 pounds since she came home in February.

Sa’fyre and Jasmine share a room, painted pink, with a large “S” and “J” on the wall.

A few weeks after coming home, family and friends gathered at the VFW Post 357 hall in Mont Pleasant for a welcome home party. It was a surprise for Sa’fyre, who thought she was going to a museum. Instead, she spent the afternoon playing games with other children.

“It was fabulous,” Dolder said. “She loved it. She so loved it. She was so happy to see everybody, to play the games, to be with children.”

At the party, as they have all along, the Dolders have worked to protect her self image. Those attending the party were instructed not to take photographs. Liz Dolder’s Facebook posts never include pictures of Sa’fyre. When The Sunday Gazette visited last week, Dolder allowed Sa’fyre to be photographed only from behind.

So far, the efforts to keep Sa’fyre’s self esteem high have been working.

“She walks into a room and owns it,” Dolder said. “She literally walks in with her head held high.”

Before she returned to school in March, the Shriners held an assembly for students at her school, preparing them for special challenges that come when a child burn victim returns to school. The Shriners, Dolder said, have been part of a huge support network. The Albany County Correctional Facility Children’s Benefit helped the family get to Westchester so often, she said.

And without the firefighters, there would be no Sa’fyre. The Dolders presented them with a plaque of thanks last fall. Members of the community also donated to a fund set up to help cover expenses. That fund, The Terry Family Fund, remains open at SEFCU.

Surpassing goals

In school, Sa’fyre is repeating kindergarten, learning her alphabet and doing well, Liz Dolder said. A nurse goes with her because of her tracheostomy, a tube into her throat.

While her aunt and uncle talked to a reporter, Sa’fyre, wearing a Little Mermaid shirt, joined in, grabbing from the table a mug-sized planter with marigolds and a paper flower that Sa’fyre had colored.

“She loves to color,” her aunt said.

“I put dirt in it, and the lady put this in,” Sa’fyre said, referring to the flower.

Then she joked that she was going to drink the planter.

“I’m going to drink this, I’m going to drink it,” Sa’fyre said.

When her aunt expressed worry, Sa’fyre let her in on the ruse.

“Not real,” she said.

Soon, she turns her attention to the stranger at the table.

“Why is he here?” she asked.

“He thinks that you are such a superstar,” Dolder said. “What do you think? Do you think you’re a superstar?”

“Never,” Sa’fyre responded.

Besides her injuries, Sa’fyre has had to deal with the loss of her father and siblings. Her aunt and uncle said Sa’fyre has good days and bad. On bad mornings, she wears a bracelet to school with a picture of her father on it.

“She’ll have her moments,” Michael Dolder said. “When she’s by herself playing, she’s talking to him. She doesn’t know that we’re close enough to hear.”

She has an answer when asked where he father is: “In heaven.”

“And where is he on you?” Armour. asked. In her heart, Sa’fyre replied.

“Show me where,” the aunt said.

Sa’fyre pointed to her chest, adding that Layah, Michael and Donavan are there, too.

To aid with healing, Sa’fyre is given goals, Liz Dolder said, and she always meets them.

Before Easter, the goal was bending over to pick something up. There was a time limit on that one — she had Easter eggs to collect.

She did it.

Then it was the backyard clubhouse. Her goal was to climb the six-rung ladder on her own. She did that for the first time last week.

The key, Dolder said, is not to cater to her. Sa’fyre has to accomplish things on her own.

“She’s got to see the star that’s in herself, too,” Dolder said. “And it shines very bright.”

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