For young Sa’fyre Terry, even a smile is a milestone.
And that’s what happened Thursday, her aunt said. The little girl smiled.
“Pure joy, pure joy,” Liz Dolder said Friday, recalling her reaction to that moment. “I can’t even describe to you, I don’t even have the vocabulary to describe to you her amazing journey.”
It’s a journey Sa’fyre has been on for three months now, since three of her siblings and her father died in a May 2 fire authorities say was intentionally set.
Sa’fyre survived but was badly burned. She has spent the last three months recovering from her extensive injuries at the Westchester Medical Center burn unit and still has a long way to go, Dolder said.
But there are the milestones. There were actually two Thursday: Sa’fyre was deemed well enough to be moved out of the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, though she’s still in a special room.
Dolder shared Sa’fyre’s progress with The Daily Gazette on Friday, ahead of a Sunday morning motorcycle fundraiser. She will attend and speak to the riders before they embark on a ride through the southern Adirondacks and back to a barbecue in Rotterdam Junction.
Sa’fyre’s burns have been healing, Dolder said, and she has been able to undergo some physical therapy in between surgeries.
She is strong enough that Dolder has been able to hold her, something she called “so wonderful.”
But there have also been setbacks. Injuries to her right hand were so severe it could not be saved. A leg that also was in danger has been saved, though.
“She’s healing up,” Dolder said. “But she’s still got a long way to go.”
She believes the power of prayer — friends and strangers alike praying for Sa’fyre’s recovery — “have carried her through this.”
Dolder was the sister of Sa’fyre’s father, David Terry. She also was the guardian of Layah Terry, Sa’fyre’s younger sister, who was staying with her father for the night. David Terry, Layah and Sa’fyre’s brothers, Michael Terry, 2, and Donavan Duell, 11 months, all died in the fire at 438 Hulett St.
Charged with setting the blaze is Robert A. Butler, 27, of Saratoga Springs. He faces one federal count of arson causing death. If convicted under federal law, he faces the possibility of the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Prosecutors have not said whether they intend to seek a death sentence.
While focusing her energy on Sa’fyre’s recovery, Dolder has also had to deal with the death of Layah, whom she and her husband raised from birth, and the loss of her brother and two little nephews.
She said she’s doing so with the help of her husband, her family and counseling.
Dolder said it’s hard even to go in Layah’s old room, where Easter candy still remains.
“I can’t throw it away,” she said. “If I throw it away, that kind of means she’s not coming home.”
As for Sa’fyre, her 6th birthday is coming up next month, and she will celebrate in the hospital.
She’s not able to speak yet, but can indicate “yes” and “no.” Dolder hopes to get her an iPad to help her communicate, both in her hospital room and with those elsewhere.
The doctors, nurses and volunteers at Westchester have been great, Dolder said. She said she couldn’t praise them enough.
One volunteer, whom Dolder knows as Major Joy, encountered Jodi Benson, the actress who voiced Ariel the mermaid princess in “The Little Mermaid.” The volunteer had Benson sign an autograph for Sa’fyre.
“God bless!” the personalized signature reads.
A photo of the autograph was posted on the Sa’fyre Facebook page, titled “Sa’fyre Schenectady’s Super Survivor.”
The two, Sa’fyre and the character Ariel, actually have something in common. Ariel was a mermaid princess. Sa’fyre was known as her father’s princess.
It was while showing that to Sa’fyre that Dolder saw Sa’fyre smile.
“That was the first time I had seen her smile,” she said. “It was breathtaking.”