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For Sa'fyre, lots of love ... and understanding, too


For Sa'fyre, lots of love ... and understanding, too

“Believe it or not,” the message in the card reads in part, “I was in your shoes too, well kind of.”
For Sa'fyre, lots of love ... and understanding, too
Nikki Gabel is photographed with son Trey, 20, and daughter Destiny, 19. Gabel, of Salina, Kan., sent Sa'fyre Terry a Christmas card and shared her own story of survival. Gabel suffered burns to her arms in 1985 at age 10 in a house fire. (Provided photo)

The Christmas card itself is humorous, involving a reindeer and, well, passing gas.

The hand-written message, though, is one of encouragement and, most notably, understanding.

“Believe it or not,” the message in the card reads in part, “I was in your shoes too, well kind of.”

This card is one of the now 1 million-plus sent to 8-year-old Schenectady arson survivor Sa’fyre Terry as part of December’s worldwide outpouring of holiday cheer.

The messages uncovered so far have been varied and many, including everything from simple sender signatures to short notes and long letters.

A few are even from fellow burn survivors.

Nikki Gabel, a 41-year-old mother of two from Kansas, wrote of being in Sa’fyre’s shoes.

Given slim odds to survive burns to her arms and respiratory injuries suffered in a trailer home fire at the age of 10, Gabel wrote briefly of her family, her work as a nanny and her life since.

“You can do anything that you set your mind to,” Gabel wrote, “even just living a ‘normal’ life.”

Over the million mark

Volunteers have been busy trying to process of cards that have arrived since a call to brighten the girl’s Christmas a month ago turned into an avalanche of love.

The U.S. Postal Service’s estimates Thursday pushed the numbers officially over 1 million pieces sent to Sa’fyre. That’s more than 980,000 letters or cards and 20,000 packages.

Online donations have topped $420,000, as other donations have come in, as well.

Though volunteers have opened thousands of the cards, they seemingly have still hardly made a dent. The entire process could last months, those involved say, and they’ve set up a Facebook page called “Safyre’s Angels” for those interested in helping.

Gabel’s note on her card concluded with her writing “Good luck little lady.”

Contacted by The Gazette last week at her Salina, Kan., home, Gabel said she heard Sa’fyre’s story like many people did, through Facebook.

“I wanted her to know,” Gabel said of her message to Sa’fyre, “that life gets back to normal at some point.”

On one day of opening this past week, volunteers unsealed police and fire department patches with well-wishes, mass-signed cards and individual cards from businesses, schools and military organizations. Celebrities and politicians have sent cards and well-wishes, too, including singers Katy Perry and Beyoncé and President Obama.

Most, though, are simply from individuals who heard Sa’fyre’s story and offer all that comes with the holiday.

“We heard about your story and wanted to send you much love and support from a firefighter family in little Ocala, Florida!” one card that included a patch read.

A man from Indiana sent his own hand-written letter, telling of how he learned of Sa’fyre’s story and offering words of encouragement.

He also included a phone number. Organizers are trying to set aside those with contact information to respond with words of thanks, knowing they won’t be able to thank everyone directly.

Another sender relayed an email message he said he received from his son in Afghanistan with no outgoing mail. The message: Could the father send Sa’fyre a card and gift on his behalf?

“‘She is a pretty little girl and I want her to have a very, very Merry Christmas,’” the note reads. “So Safyre this is from my son to you.”

An inspired squadron

The Florida-based Maritime Strike Squadron 48 sent their message direct, from those who could be there to sign the card and those who couldn’t.

The card’s printed message included a hope that the holidays bring special memories. Signatures and well wishes left hardly a space in the card blank.

An accompanying letter notes that the many signatures aren’t of all squadron members, because members are always heading off to do what the country needs of them, “but I guess this is a pretty good start.”

The squadron, nicknamed the Vipers, also included its patch. It’s the very same one, the letter explains, the squadron’s pilots wear when flying.

“I hope this card makes you smile as big as all of us did when we signed it,” the letter signed simply “HSM-48 Vipers,” reads. “You are an inspiring young lady who motivates us to do what we do and become better people.”

The hope behind each card and letter was to brighten Sa’fyre’s Christmas.

Sa’fyre is the only child to survive the devastating May 2, 2013, arson fire at 438 Hulett St. in Schenectady. The fire claimed the life of her father, David Terry, and her three siblings, Layah, 3, Michael, 2, and Donavan Duell, 11 months. The arson remains unsolved.

Sa’fyre, 5 years old at the time, survived. She suffered severe burns and underwent months of surgeries and hospitalization. She lost a hand shortly after the fire and has since lost a foot. There are more surgeries to come, including one scheduled this month.

She uses a prosthetic to walk. She now lives in Rotterdam with her aunt and uncle, Liz and Michael Dolder.

Liz Dolder remains beside herself at the response and all the unique layers relaying each thought and prayer.

She sees Sa’fyre encouraging others by being herself and others encouraging Sa’fyre to be just that, herself.

“It’s being passed back and forth,” Dolder said. “They help her and she helps them.”

‘Every little bit helps’

On the day The Gazette visited the volunteers last week, they’d opened at least one other letter from a burn survivor.

David Rais, now of Hudson, Ohio, wrote to tell Sa’fyre of coming back from extensive burns he suffered to the lower half of his body in a 1994 suspected arson fire in his native Colorado.

Rais, who was 30 at the time of the fire, wrote to Sa’fyre of spending two months in a coma and more than a year in the hospital relearning how to walk, stand, sit and even breathe. He uses braces to walk.

Contacted by The Gazette, Rais said he saw Sa’fyre’s story on his local Fox affiliate in Cleveland. He thought back to his own experience. He said he couldn’t imagine having to do that, as Sa’fyre has, at age 5.

Hearing of the call for cards, he said, it was something he couldn’t ignore.

“Every little bit,” he said from experience, “helps.”

In his letter, Rais wrote of what he learned through his own experience: Burns cannot destroy the human spirit.

Many of his best years, he wrote, have been since his fire. Those now include his wife, Marcia. He met her a decade after the fire.

“I believe your best years are ahead also,” Rais wrote. “Keep up your spirit and you will achieve wonders.”

“Merry Christmas,” his letter concludes, “and Happy New Year.”

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