Sydney Potjer, 6, touched many lives during her short, but joyful life
Published: Wednesday, May 11, 2011, 12:42 PM Updated: Wednesday, May 11, 2011, 12:52 PM
BYRON TOWNSHIP — Sydney Potjer believed she could do anything anybody else did.
Although a degenerative condition kept her in a wheelchair, the 6-year-old would see a person with a flat tire and want to help them. She saw someone snowboarding on TV and wanted to try it.
“If you asked her, she was the fastest kid in the class,” said her father, Tim Potjer. “She’d be in her power chair and they’d be chasing her around and she’d say, ‘Dad, I’m the fastest.’”
Sydney died Sunday after going into cardiac arrest, likely a complication of Type 1 spinal muscular atrophy.
Sydney, adopted as an infant, was diagnosed with the condition — which made her susceptible to illness — shortly after her birth.
Her last bout of illness came Friday, and she was admitted to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
Sydney initially expected to live just two years.
But she lived long enough to drive her own wheelchair, play baseball, go sledding and enjoy play dates with friends.
She loved the color purple and her dog, Fluffy, and wrote in her kindergarten autobiography that she wanted to be a princess when she grew up “because I like to dress up and spin around.”
She was adored by the children in her class at Byron Center Christian School and, on days she had to stay inside during recess, her teacher, Sherry Kloostra, had to draw popsicle sticks to choose which child got to stay inside with her.
On their first day of school after her death, the kids hugged stuffed animals — “Sydney friends” — donated from the Hug-A-Bear Foundation as they talked about their classmate, Kloostra said.
Kloostra wrote down what the kids said about their friend, and she plans to use those words when she speaks at Sydney’s funeral, at which the kids will sing.
“One little boy said, ‘I think she really loves school because I think she just liked being with us. You know, we were all her friends,’” Kloostra said.
In her six years, Sydney changed the lives of her parents and many others, Tim Potjer said. After living with Sydney’s terminal illness, he said, the family has come to have a deeper appreciation for each day.
“Every day we wake up in the morning and it’s like, ‘Hey, we get another day,’ and that’s kind of how I’ve lived every day since her diagnosis,” he said. “Yeah, the economy’s bad and gas is going up and if you listen to the news, the world’s coming to an end, but I’m alive and I can be thankful for a lot of things.”
Although some people looked at the Potjers “all sad” because Sydney had disabilities, she was a blessing the way she was, said her mother, Kami Potjer.
“She was excited about going to heaven and seeing Jesus,” Kami Potjer said. “She said, ‘I want to go there. I want to see Jesus.’”
“Of course, she wanted to come back home afterward.”
Her family will greet friends from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Cook Funeral Home at 2067 84th St. SW, in Byron Township.
A funeral will be at 1 p.m. Friday at the Reformed Church of Corinth, 129 100th St. SE.
In honor of Sydney, contributions may be made to Byron Center Christian School or The 200 c/o Sophia’s Cure Foundation, dedicated to finding a cure for spinal muscular atrophy.
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