How Robbie loved the creek behind his grandparents' house! I was
always so thankful that a guardian angel watched over him and Laura!




The following is an article I wrote for the Southwest Kansas Faith and Family Newspaper.

Remembering Robbie

This fall (2001) is the first time in more than 30 years that my family has not been
involved in the educational field in some way. My daughter finished school in June,
my husband retired from his position as the Director of Special Education for SKACD,
and I haven't taught school for more than 25 years now! But it shouldn't have been
that way--we should have had one more year, at least.

For this should have been the year that our son Robbie was a senior--a member
of the first class to graduate from the new Dodge City high school. But he won't be
among those who receive their diplomas next May. He died on March 15, 2000, at the age of 16.

Those who knew Robbie realize that he overcame many obstacles in his young life. When
he was born, he seemed to be a golden child--bright, adventurous, and gifted with a
happy disposition. His first seven years were so full of promise!

But an unseen cyst in his brain gradually destroyed so much of that promise. The first
symptoms were devastating--it seemed that almost overnight he went from being a
good student to one who was negative and obstinate. His grades plummeted
from A's to D's and F's. And no one could tell us why.

The first doctors and psychiatrists we consulted diagnosed him variously as "hyperactive"
or as having "oppositional defiant disorder." Some educators even hinted that Hamp
and I were failures as parents.

It was only after Robbie began having multiple seizures, more than three years after
the first symptoms appeared, that any doctor thought to have him checked by an MRI.
And even then, the diagnosis was wrong, for we were told that Robbie had
apparently suffered a stroke.

He was put on medication for the seizures, but the medicine didn't work. He continued
to have multiple seizures on a regular basis. We went through another year of
frustration and escalating behavioral problems before we decided to consult with
doctors at the New York University Hospital.

In New York, another MRI was done, and it was finally determined that the cause of
all the seizures, behavioral problems, and learning disorders stemmed from a cyst in
his left temporal lobe. In December 1994, at the age of 11, Robbie underwent three
major brain surgeries to remove the cyst---and, we hoped, to end the seizures
and the concomitant problems.

The surgery was both a success and a failure. The cyst was removed and Robbie
recovered his health, but all the problems remained and were even exacerbated!
Worst of all, his ability to read was totally destroyed by the surgery, and he had to
start from scratch. His ability to re-learn was further complicated by the fact that
his short-term memory had been so adversely affected by the surgery. He could
not remember common words for things he encountered every day, and his
speech became disjointed and halting.

We praise God for all the teachers in the special education field who worked with
Robbie over the next five years. Slowly and painstakingly, they helped him to re-learn
the alphabet and all the other skills that had been destroyed by the brain surgeries.
By the 10th grade, he was reading at the 7th grade level and had recovered well
enough to be in several "regular" classes. He was especially proud of the fact that
he was earning a "B" in a "regular" math class!

During all these years of difficulty, though, Robbie retained that wonderful bright smile
that was his trademark. And he seldom, if ever, complained about all the hardships
he had to go through. He savored life and friends, and became attached to all the
wonderful teachers who helped him make such good progress.

Of equal importance in Robbie's recovery were the love, support, and prayers we
received from our church family at First Missionary. We were overwhelmed by the
many kindnesses they showed us while Robbie was away in New York. Jim Hossler,
our pastor, and his wife JoAnn were even able to visit Robbie in the hospital shortly
after his final surgery, just a day or two before Christmas, 1994. Their son Tim lives
in New York City and they had planned for months to visit him over the holidays.
Who but God knew that Robbie would also be there at that time and in great need
of their love and support?

From that time until Robbie's untimely death in March 2000, Pastor Jim became his
friend and mentor. They met every week for a "Dr. Pepper date," and had many
long talks. Pastor Jim was instrumental in Robbie's spiritual and emotional growth,
and it was with great joy that Hamp and I watched him baptize Robbie in the
spring of 1997.

His death came suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep, and it was completely
devastating to us. We had thought that his fantastic progress over the last year was
a promise that someday he would be completely whole again.

We now realize that last happy year was God's special gift to him--and to us.
Robbie IS completely whole again now, in the loving arms of the Savior he
loved and served. And we have the blessed assurance that we will see him again
someday when God calls us home. Though we miss him every single day, we give
thanks to God for lending him to us for those sixteen years. And we remember his smile
and his courage and his love with gratitude and much pride.

Robbie's life demonstrates clearly God's wonderful love for all of us and the promise that
He will be with us always, even in the midst of great sorrow and trial.

(Saralyn McAfee Smith, 10/17/01)



Pastor Jim Hossler, Robbie's friend and mentor