When Liz Dolder bought a metal Christmas card holder from a thrift store, she had no idea that it contained holiday magic. But combined with the kindness of strangers and the power of social media, the tree-shaped card display is bringing Christmas cheer to Dolder’s niece, Safyre, who was the only member of her family to survive a house fire when she was five years old.
After someone set fire to the upstairs stairwell leading to her family’s apartment in May 2013, Safyre’s father, David Terry, and her siblings Layah, 3, Michael, 2, and Donovan, 11 months, were killed. Because Terry had cradled Safyre in his arms, she was protected from breathing in hot air, allowing her to survive the fire.
Safyre suffered burns over 75 percent of her body, causing her to lose her left foot and right hand, and requiring a 9-month stay in hospitals, where she underwent more than 50 surgeries to graft skin over her burns. And, since her mother had signed over custodial rights to the state, Dolder, who is Terry’s sister and Safyre’s aunt, petitioned the courts to become her guardian.
“Safyre lost everything — her father, her mother, her sister, her brothers, her home, her favorite toy, her favorite outfit — everything that was familiar to her,” Dolder told TODAY Parents. “She even lost the one thing we all take for granted — her reflection. But she wakes every morning with a smile on her face. She is the true definition of hope, faith and love.”
Dolder, who lives in Rotterdam, New York, with her husband, Michael and their five children, says her niece, now 8, is a fighter who has inspired a community of supporters to keep going regardless of their obstacles. Dolder often posts updates on Safyre’s health to Safyre Schenectady’s Super Survivor, the Facebook community she created after the fire to keep friends and family up-to-date on her niece’s condition.
When Safyre saw the Christmas card tree her aunt had purchased, the young girl said she wanted to fill it up with cards during the Christmas season. Later, when Dolder shared a photo of Safyre with the tree with her Facebook community, a supporter of the family, Kevin Clark, asked for permission to share the photo, along with an address where people could mail cards and fulfill Safyre’s Christmas wish.
The post has been viewed and shared by thousands of people. And, in a matter of days, Safyre has received fourteen cards from throughout the country, from Florida to New Hampshire, to California.
“She’s even had a few emailed from Italy, Sweden, Russia and the United Kingdom,” said Dolder. “When she opens these cards, the twinkle in her eye and the sparkle in her smile are priceless.”
Safyre hopes the cards will continue to come in. Cards can be mailed to: Safyre, P.O. Box 6126, Schenectady, New York, 12306.
The family has also started a You Caring fundraising site, where they have raised $10,000 of the $15,000 needed to cover medical expenses and a van used to transport Safyre to and from her ongoing medical treatments and surgeries.
“Safyre is a typical 8-year-old — she’s just wrapped in a different package,” said Dolder. “She is the bravest, most courageous little girl you will ever meet. She is funny and witty, sweet and caring, and super strong…She is truly amazing. Once you meet her, she is unforgettable.”