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Sandy Island: Next step for youngest survivor: preschool

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

On Monday, less than a month before his third birthday, Zyair Smalls had his last session with a home aid attendant.

It was a huge milestone in a lengthy recovery and more milestones soon followed.

Zyair’s paternal grandmother, Roz Geathers, got papers the following day that officially ended the boy’s physical, speech and occupational therapy sessions.

“He topped out of all of them,” Geathers announced proudly as Zyair ran in energetic circles around her legs. “He has arrived.”

Zyair’s achievements came just days shy of the two-year anniversary of the boat accident that forever altered — and nearly ended — his young life.

His mother, Shaquatia Robinson, 19, his maternal grandmother, Lou Ann Robinson, 47, and a cousin, Rishard Pyatt, 18, all drowned in the Feb. 18, 2009 tragedy.

The group, along with two others who survived the accident, were traveling home to Sandy Island when their boat started taking on water during a storm and capsized about 30 yards from the island’s dock.

Zyair was found floating face down in the 50-degree water near one of the boat’s seats, according to Charles Pyatt, the island resident who rescued him.

The baby was flown to the Medical University of South Carolina, where doctors said he was unlikely to survive the night and predicted he would never have a normal life if he did.

Zyair spent 52 days in the hospital. He couldn’t see or hear after the accident and had to relearn all of his motor skills. He couldn’t even sit up on his own when Geathers and her husband, Isiah, brought him home to live with them while his father, Joshua Smalls, is in the Marine Corps.

Zyair’s recovery was slow and arduous, but there’s no sign now of that feeble, dormant child in the active little boy who trails after his big brother, Josiah, 4, and loves to dance and sing.

He was scheduled to undergo testing this week for placement in a pre-kindergarten class and is set to enroll in Head Start on his birthday in March.

Geathers was confident Zyair would do well enough on the tests that he won’t need to be placed in a special needs class.

“He’s very articulate,” she said. “I think he’s normal.”

On the anniversary of the accident, Geathers and Zyair will continue a tradition they started last year. They’ll board a small boat and travel to Sandy Island to put flowers on Shaquatia’s grave.

At home, they’ll burn candles all day around a photo of her that has a prominent place in the living room.

Zyair likes to call Geathers “mama,” but she said he knows who Shaquatia was and can recognize her in pictures. He has a special photo album of pictures of his mother to help keep her memory alive.

Zyair has no fear of the water and enjoys the boat trip to Sandy Island when he goes to visit family there, Geathers said. He likes to look at the birds and trees he passes along the way.

Zyair’s grandparents don’t worry about letting him board a boat to the island.

“People have been going on boats over there forever,” Isiah said. “We feel he’s in great hands.”

But they do see the need for a ferry to the island, not only to provide a more reliable means of transportation, but to enable residents to take cars to the island and make it easier for large groups to visit for church and other events.

The funeral for the accident victims “is a perfect example,” Roz said. Even though use of the island’s school boat was provided, it took multiple trips and a lot of time to get all the mainlanders who attended to the island and back.

“I think it would be fantastic for them to have a ferry,” she said.

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