Saturday, August 18, 2018
Opinion

Spoto community rallies behind girl who suffered traumatic brain injury

Less than a day after they learned their friend was in the hospital, they organized.

Just hours after word got out that she suffered a traumatic brain injury, they gathered.

And in the agonizing moments after a freak car accident on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway left 18-year-old Tyra Janelle Brown fighting for her life, they prayed.

Simple word of mouth led nearly three-quarters of the 1,400-plus students at Spoto High to gather around the flag pole in the school's courtyard on that Monday morning last month. Right after third period, they pulled together in a solemn show of love and concern.

And then they went to class.

"Not one student was late to class," said Spoto math teacher Wendy Smith, fighting back tears. "I've never seen anything like it and I've taught since 1980."

Tyra Brown has touched so many students. She captains the cheerleading squad, serves in student government and holds a spot in the National Honor Society. It wasn't uncommon for her to take time out and visit with the students at the school who are affected by autism, often dancing with them.

The senior already gained admission to the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida and told teachers she planned to become a pediatric nurse.

"Tyra is a wonderful, wonderful student," said Smith, who has taught Brown for three years and spoke on behalf of her family.

"She's a wonderful girl, a wonderful role model. She's just great. The kids all like her."

Now the kids all search for answers.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Brown was traveling with Makayla Anne Harrell and Brittany O. Jackson early on Jan. 11 when they stopped on the shoulder of the Selmon with a flat tire.

As they waited for AAA to arrive, another driver lost control of his car and hit their parked vehicle. All three girls were hurt, but Brown, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, suffered the most severe injury.

Smith said a solemn pall fell over the school for several weeks.

"The first few weeks, everybody was very different, very in thought," Smith said. "They just didn't quite know what to do."

"This has affected all of her teachers. It's affected the school."

If it has affected the school, imagine the impact on her family. Her mother, Frost Elementary teacher Cynthia Leeks, is single and has used up all her sick time sitting beside her daughter's bed. Teachers at Spoto and Frost are helping by donating sick days.

Brown's three older sisters, including Shakea Kindred, a first-year teacher at Valrico Elementary, and Brianna Thomas, a basketball-playing senior at Barton College in North Carolina, soldier on, as does her younger brother Oscar, a sophomore at Spoto.

Leeks is now with her daughter at Atlanta's Shepherd Center, one of the nation's top hospitals for spinal cord and brain injuries, but she will be allowed to stay in an apartment provided by the hospital for only 30 days. After that, she may have to cover the daily costs of a hotel.

Brown's fellow students and friends want to help. Plans call for spirit nights at local restaurants, and a 5K fundraiser at the school on May 9.

"They don't know what to do but they want to do something, anything," Smith said. "They're special kids. They don't understand why this has happened."

Smith said they're seeking sponsors and hoping to challenge cheerleading squads, NHS chapters and student government associations from other schools to take a 1-mile challenge to raise money.

If you want to help, email Smith at [email protected] or call Spoto at (813) 672-5405.

Kids grappling with a fading sense of invincibility and an unshakable sorrow need to know the community cares. They need to know their love for Tyra matters. They need to know they're not alone.

That's all I'm saying.

Comments
Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Within weeks of taking office in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott made one of the worst decisions of his administration and refused $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. Within months of leaving office, the governor...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Local governments across the land can find plenty of reasons to go after the drug industry over the crisis of opioid addiction.Hillsborough County can find more reasons than most.• In 2016, the county led the state with 579 babies born addicted to dr...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

The environmental crisis in South Florida has fast become a political crisis. Politicians in both parties are busy blaming one another for the waves of toxic algae blooms spreading out from Lake Okeechobee and beyond, fouling both coasts and damaging...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

It is real news that the Hillsborough County School District said this week it will accelerate testing for lead in drinking water and release the results after the Tampa Bay Times reported testing would take years and that until we asked families wer...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/16/18

Bumping into GOP cowardice on guns

One small island of sanity in the generally insane ocean of American gun culture is the near-complete federal ban on civilian possession of fully automatic weapons — machine guns.The nation got a bitter taste last year of what we’d be facing on a reg...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

The revelation that three people in Pinellas County have contracted the measles virus should be a wake-up call to everyone to get vaccinated if they haven’t been — and to implore parents to immunize their kids. Contagious diseases such as measles can...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

A good reputation can vanish overnight, which is why Habitat for Humanity of Hills-borough County made a smart decision by announcing it would seek to buy back 12 mortgages it sold to a Tampa company with a history of flipping properties. The arrange...
Published: 08/14/18
Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

40%of Americans who were eligible to vote for president in 2016 just didn’t bother. That number dwarfs the portion of all eligible voters who cast a ballot for President Donald Trump — 27.6 percent — or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton, 28.8 percent...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe made a reasonable decision to charge Michael Drejka with manslaughter in last month’s deadly Clearwater convenience store parking lot confrontation. The shooting, which erupted over use of a handicap parkin...
Published: 08/13/18
Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

Editorial: Politics aside, arguments are clear for moving appellate court to Tampa

It’s time to re-establish a permanent home for the state appeals court that serves the Tampa Bay region.It makes sense to put it in Tampa, the same as it made sense 30 years ago when the court’s operations began moving piece by piece up Interstate 4 ...
Published: 08/09/18
Updated: 08/10/18