‘She lit up everyone’s life’

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I was in my Adapted Physical Education class two years ago when a ball of joy first walked into my life. Her name was Yazmin Hernandez. Her smile was so big, and she wanted to be everyone’s friend. Immediately, everyone wanted to be hers. This young girl brightened everyone’s life that she walked into. 

Over the next two years, I had the pleasure of working with her and watching her grow as a young woman almost every day in Adapted P.E. She always made everyone around her smile as she danced the class away listening to Disney music, giving everyone hugs or playing with their hair.

As it turned out, Yazmin’s last day of school was Dec. 2, and later that month she ended up testing positive for COVID-19. Due to underlying health conditions, she was sent to Riley Children’s Hospital.

On the morning of Jan. 6, I got the phone call saying Yazmin had passed away. I never imagined getting that phone call, and it broke my heart knowing someone so special to so many people was gone. 

I wasn’t the only one who didn’t expect the news. 

“I was devastated and shocked because it wasn’t supposed to happen to any of my students,” special education teacher Jody Egan said. “She had a really super cute wave, she tried to act shy, but she wasn’t actually shy.”

And here’s the thing: Yazmin had all these reasons to be unhappy. Her Down syndrome made her different from many people around her. She complained often about having knee and back pain. She also had those other health conditions. 

Despite all that she always found ways to be happy, have a smile and bring joy to others.

“She was always out there and loved to give hugs and was always open to anyone to come say ‘hi’ to her and she’d say ‘hi’ back,” junior Brayden Martin said. “She would always be just so happy.”

Yazmin built such strong relationships with the buddies in the Adapted P.E. class, especially with Martin. 

“She loved the boys,” Egan said.

She grew so fond of Martin and would do anything for him. He meant as much to her as she did to him. 

“I think of Yazmin as such an open and outgoing person and always just so happy,” Martin said, “She’s just your typical (young teenage) girl who loves being around everybody and has a crush on almost every boy in her class at some point.”

She was such a girly-girl too. She loved her dresses, painted nails, beautiful hair and anything that was fancy to her. I was lucky enough to be able to go to her 18th birthday party in 2019 and of course she had the biggest pink dress on and showed off her nails and dress. 

Hernandez was so excited for me and a few other buddies at the time from Adapted P.E. to meet her family. Her family was so sweet that day, and I could tell they all just adored her like everyone else did.

Yazmin also gave gifts to whoever she was with. According to Egan, she always made gifts for her and the other former special education teacher Keida Bechtel. The last time I saw Yazmine, she gave me the coloring page that we were working on together. She had written my name on it.  

I still have that coloring page, I have all of the ones we colored together. She would always write my name on my pages for me. She lit up everyone’s life after she became a part of theirs. I will always remember her as a young girl with the happiest personality and will learn from it and continue to smile for her. This ball of joy who was loved by so many will always be missed.