Michael Charles Metil's parents made sure their son had every piece of equipment available to help him live his life with a rare disorder to the fullest.
In his 15 years, Michael never walked or talked, but his smiles and laughter and reaction to books and videos let his parents and teachers know what he was thinking and feeling.
"Everyone wants to be understood, whether you can speak or not," said Michael's mother, Cay Welch. "They're transformed when people understand what's inside their head."
When Michael died in June, his parents found themselves surrounded by the specialty devices, machines and books they had amassed for him.
They decided to help other children by donating Michael's entire collection of books, DVDs and devices to establish a library in his name at the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit's Clairview School, which Michael attended from 2000 until his death.
The gift, valued at $22,000, was made through the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit Foundation and included software, hardware, CDs, books, DVDs, tapes, adaptive communication devices and more that will help the school's 200 special-needs students.
"Michael just really loved coming to school," said his father, Michael Metil of Derry Township. "We just wanted all his stuff to go where it would be utilized the most."
The Michael Charles Metil Adaptive Technology Lending Library was formally dedicated Tuesday morning with Intermediate Unit officials and Michael's father on hand to unveil a plaque outside the library.
Welch, who is in Colorado working with a program for disabled skiers, was unable to attend.
Michael was born with an undetected genetic disorder called Glutaric Acidemia-Type 1, or GA-1. The metabolic disorder doesn't allow the body to properly break down proteins, converting them into toxins that injure the brain. The illness was dormant until Christmas 1994, when Michael became sick. The sickness activated the disease, leading to irreversible neurological damage.
Michael was unable to walk, talk or eat by mouth. He underwent numerous surgeries and suffered complications throughout his life.
Through it all, his parents made sure he had all of the latest medical equipment and communication devices. When he died, Michael's parents realized they could help many more children.
"He was afforded those luxuries, and I knew that he was blessed in that regard," Welch said in a phone interview. "It embarrassed me, and I realized this could be a direct pathway so that many kids could maximize this."
And they have been. Samantha Fecich, who was Michael's teacher, coordinates the library and the use of assistive technology in the classrooms.
Teachers can check out books and other devices for use in their classrooms. Technology from the library is integrated into the daily lessons.
Students use the books, especially audiobooks, during reading instruction, Fecich said. They also use large buttons, known as switches, to control things such as audiobooks and computers that they might not be able to turn on or off traditionally.
DVDs often are used by teachers as rewards for communication because the students love to watch movies.
"So thanks to Michael, more kids are learning about the cause-and-effect aspect of communication -- 'If I press this button, I get what I want' type response," Fecich said.
A donated microphone is used every day during news announcements, which students deliver on the TVs throughout the school.
"So that little piece of equipment is helping many kids with their self-esteem and gives them pride. They love to see themselves on the news as a real news reporter," Fecich said.
The students also love the Nintendo Wii the family donated to teach them concepts such as exercise, addition and cooking.
The family also donated some medical equipment, including a Quadriciser, a machine used to stimulate movement in the arms and legs as part of physical therapy.
"This is by far my favorite piece of equipment I've ever used in physical therapy," therapist Jennifer Schmidt said. The school did not have one, and they've had particular success using it with two students who suffered traumatic brain injuries in car accidents.
"He said his first word while he was on the machine," Schmidt said of Brandon Bargiband, a Southmoreland student injured in a 2008 car crash who was using the Quadriciser yesterday.
Welch said what touches her the most is that Michael's name is imprinted in labels on his books, and students for years to come will see his name and learn about who he was.
"It's bringing him back to life to someone who never met him and who would never know him," Welch said.
The link to the article and photos can be found here: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/regional/s_661939.html