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Sandy Island: Youngest survivor continues to thrive

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Just a few weeks shy of 2 years old, Zyair Smalls looks like a typical toddler as he comes tearing through his grandparents’ living room in blue corduroys.

It’s hard to believe that a year ago doctors predicted he’d never have a normal life. They didn’t expect him to make it through the night, and if he did, he’d likely have brain damage.

“He’s a miracle,” said Roz Geathers, Zyair’s paternal grandmother. “People keep saying they can’t believe this is the same baby.”

Smalls is the youngest survivor of the boat accident that claimed the life of his 19-year-old mother, Shaquatia Robinson, his maternal grandmother, Lou Ann Robinson, and an 18-year-old cousin, Rishard Pyatt on this day last year. The boat was headed to Sandy Island at around 9 p.m. when it began to take on water and capsized about 30 yards from the island’s dock.

The two other survivors made it safely to shore, but rescuers found Zyair floating facedown in the river. He was taken to the Medical University of South Carolina, where he spent 52 days.

Early in his stay, he couldn’t see, hear or sit up on his own, and he had to relearn all his motor skills.

“He couldn’t talk or do anything but be adorable,” Roz said.

When Zyair was released, he went to live with Geathers and her husband, Isiah. Zyair’s father, Joshua Smalls, is a Marine stationed in Afghanistan.

Zyair’s progress was slow at first, but by mid-May, it was coming along fast and now Zyair is running his grandparents ragged as he chases after his big brother, Josiah, 3.

Josiah moved in with the family in November and Roz said that made a huge difference. Zyair wants to do everything his big brother does and doesn’t like to take no for an answer.

Roz said she expects Zyair to be potty trained by his birthday March 10, thanks in part to Josiah’s example.

“Anything you would think a 2-year-old should be doing, he is,” Roz said.

He likes to play pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo, loves books and taking his rubber ducky into the bathtub. And he has opinions about everything, including what he likes to eat. He’s fond of cheeseburgers, French fries and all kinds of fruit, and he asks for them by name.

Roz said she knew early on the initial predictions of Zyair’s doctors were wrong. She knew he’d make a full recovery, because she could tell he was a fighter even before he’d seen his first birthday. Yet even Roz is surprised by how far Zyair has come in a matter of months.

“You really have to see it to believe it,” she said. “He has check-up every three months where they do a complete evaluation of how he’s doing, and he surpassed every expectation they had for him, until they had to make new goals.”

Zyair has advanced so much, his occupational therapy has been cut by half. He still goes to physical and speech therapy every week, but goes to occupational therapy every other week.

Given all Zyair has accomplished in the last year, Roz said she can’t wait to see what else he’ll do.

“I’m looking forward to him going to Head Start with his brother and seeing him walk down the stairs by himself,” she said. “He’s holding pencils, so I know he’ll write soon. And I’m anxious to know what his greatest talent will be, because he likes books, drawing, singing and dancing.”

Roz said there are a lot of folks waiting to see what’s next for Zyair. He’s become something of a local celebrity because of all he’s been through, and Roz said everywhere she goes, people are asking about Zyair.

“The prayers are endless,” she said, and she’s constantly overwhelmed by the community support her family has received since the accident.

As a thank you, the Geathers family will celebrate Zyair’s second birthday March 13 with a barbecue. Roz said everyone is invited to drop in and see for themselves how far Zyair has come.

The party will be from 1-5 p.m. at the Geathers Georgetown home, 291 Yadkin Ave.

Roz said Zyair is too young to ask questions about his mother or what happened to him, but she has a scrap book dedicated to the accident and she’ll tell him about it some day.

“If I didn’t, somebody definitely would, because it’s the most amazing story.”

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