A seventh-grader at Spring Wood Middle School in Hanover Park, who loves to sing and draw, and typically is the life of the party in the school lunchroom, was indeed the center of attention Thursday at a fundraiser in her honor -- from afar.
Nyhla Lee is recovering from a rare blood disorder called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, or ITP, that led her to have a series of three strokes in June, including one in her brainstem. She was airlifted to Advent Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, where she has been spent the last four months receiving treatment.
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How you can helpDonations may be made directly to the Nyhla Lee Recovery Fund, set up through TCF Bank. In addition, donations are being accepted at a GiveForward website set up in Nyhla's name, www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/c2s2/Nhyla-recovery-fund.
According to her mother, Kiona Jordan, Nyhla was in a coma for two weeks, and when she awoke, doctors said she would be blind, deaf and paralyzed. However, her continued progress has "astonished" them.
"She's doing a lot better," Jordan said. "Doctors have been using the word 'miracle,' which they don't throw around lightly. They didn't expect her to live."
What started as a nosebleed that lasted an entire day turned out to be bleeding from the brain. In ITP patients, blood does not clot as it should, due to a low number of platelets.
Since June, Nyhla has endured two brain surgeries and 30 blood transfusions. Slowly, her mother said, she is regaining her strength, after starting multiple therapies, including physical, occupational and speech intervention.
Her family is preparing to bring her home on Tuesday, which has motivated Nyhla even more during her therapy sessions, they say.
That came as good news to her classmates and their families at the fundraiser, organized by teachers at the school. However, they know the family does not own a car, and consequently, they have set out to help them purchase one that will accommodate Nyhla's wheelchair.
"We've been wanting to do something since we found out," said sixth-grade teacher Christine Lyons, "and when we learned when she was coming home, everyone pulled together. The response from the community has been astounding."
The teachers union, the Keeneyville Educational Association, kicked off the evening by donating a $100 check to the family. The night's events eventually raised just over $3,000.
Activities included food, games, face painting and raffle drawings. It also showcased a recent episode of "Wheel of Fortune" that featured communications teacher Larry Ratledge competing.
"There's lots of love in this building," said Assistant Principal Mark Bocian to Nyhla's family members. "Be sure and take all of this love back to Nyhla."
The benefit also drew Hanover Park Mayor Rodney Craig, who said he was moved by the spirit displayed at the event.
"What a nice outreach, for all of you to come out and help a family in our community," Craig said.
Earlier this semester, all 535 students in the middle school wrote cards to Nyhla as a way to encourage her.
"I told her that she could survive this, and come back to us," said her friend Arreanya Jackson of Hanover Park.
Both Arreanya and Crystal Buchanan greeted people as they entered the school fundraiser, asking them to sign a guest book for their friend.
"We want to get everyone's attention that we're here for her," Crystal said, "no matter what."