The Texas Catholic
RICHARDSON — With an air of celebration, anxiety and hope, St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School bid a temporary farewell to fifth-grader Nicole Hall during an all-school assembly on Feb. 17, as she began preparing for a kidney transplant set to take place on March 14. Her father, Aaron, will be the donor.
Principal Darbie Safford said news that a transplant had finally been scheduled was a relief for the entire school — and a cause for celebration.
“My first reaction was to ask Stephanie (Nicole’s mother) if we could do something in her honor to celebrate her as a part of our community and really recognize that we’re all in this together,” Safford said. “It’s been a long fight and we’re finally getting to the point where she’s about to have this procedure. Hopefully that opens up a new window in her life.”
Hall, a student at St. Paul since preschool, has been battling cystinosis, a rare genetic disorder in which an excess of the amino acid cystine causes the gradual breakdown of every major organ in the body. There is no cure for the disease but Hall is receiving treatments to help mitigate its symptoms and slow its progress, including the use of a feeding tube.
With Hall’s kidneys functioning somewhere around 20-25 percent, the hope is that a transplant will boost that number significantly and provide Hall with much greater stamina.
Speaking to more than 300 students, teachers and faculty clad in pink shirts and packed into the school’s gymnasium, Dallas Catholic Schools Superintendent Matthew Vereecke told the Halls they have the prayers of many in the diocese, including Bishop Edward J. Burns.
“We care about you and we love you,” Vereecke said. “We think about every one of our kids in Catholic schools every day and when you’re hurting we’re hurting which is why we’re here. This is a day for hope and it’s a day we’re so excited we can be a part of and share to tell you how much we love you and care about you.”
Hall’s mother said the school’s gesture, which included a music video featuring students and faculty, a singing performance by classmates and a teacher-led flash mob, was deeply moving for Hall, who appeared overwhelmed by the school’s support.
“Friday made it very real for her,” she said. “She is cognizant that the first week is behind her and knows that there are two left.”
The day was also poignant for the students, especially those who have known Hall since preschool. One of those students is fifth-grader Annie Sutton, whom Hall’s mother described as Hall’s “guardian angel” of seven years.
Sutton’s mother, Melissa, said her daughter is very protective of Hall and sometimes struggles to understand why she is suffering.
“The whole week before Nicole was leaving she would mention it to me,” Sutton said. “Every once in a while she would break down and start to cry and tell me, ‘Mom I just want her to be OK.’ ”
When the assembly ended and the crowd dispersed, Hall and her mother handed out a special gift to the school’s teachers — homemade cookies in the shape of a kidney. It was gesture of comfort from Hall to those who had long been comforting her.
“We’ve watched Nicole go through a lot of very difficult things since she’s been here,” Safford said. “But anytime something scary comes up you have two choices: you can worry or you can pray. We’ve chosen to pray.”