At-home learning opens up more opportunities for North Bellmore girl with spinal muscular atrophy

Virtual learning is something families have had to get used to, for better or worse. But for a North Bellmore family, digital learning has been a dream come true.
Sophia Gaynor was born 11 years ago -- but she never crawled, barely smiled and wouldn't hold her head up. Her family soon found out why.
"It was right before Easter, I'll never forget. They called and said she had spinal muscular atrophy type 1, which is the worst type you can get," says Catherine Gaynor, Sophia's mom.
Over less than two years, she could no longer swallow or smile. SMA is the leading genetic killer of kids under the age of 2. But despite what doctors said, Gaynor wasn't done fighting.
"They said she's probably not going to live past 6 months, she'll most likely not live past 2 years old, now she's here at 11 -- it's a miracle," says Catherine Gaynor.
Over the years, Gaynor had joined several school video conferences. But because of the pandemic, for the first time, she is no longer alone. Digital learning means she's on the same playing field as her classmates.
"They really enjoy having her answers be contributed in any way, shape or form," says Danielle Leone, Sophia's teacher.
School psychologist Allison Azus has known Gaynor since the second grade and has been thrilled for her.
"To have that community with her class, and to be able to see and interact with her peers ... has been huge for her. And not only for her, but for the kids. It's so character-building for them as well," says Azus.
Gaynor also gets by outside of class with some help from friends and her mom.
"Each child would write and ask Sophia questions. Or just tell about their day, and she would answer them," says Catherine Gaynor. "I would hold Sophia's hand so she would feel like she's writing back."
And though Sophia can't say what she feels, she is certainly feeling it all the same. Her little brother thinks the same.
"The way her face is, obviously she can't smile and frown, but I just know," says Jackson Gaynor.