November 20, 2012

A learning experience: Siblings find out lessons go both ways

by Caitlin Huston

LOGANSPORT — When the McVay family adopted four-year-old Silvia from Romania, her sister Rebecca prided herself on teaching the girl how to do things the correct way.

But after Silvia persevered through learning English, adapting to a new culture and overcoming a visual impairment, Rebecca said she realized she actually learned more from her sister. And the rest of the family agrees.

The McVay family already had three daughters when parents Stan and Mary decided they wanted to add another daughter to their home. Rebecca was seven years old when she and her family went to O’Hare International Airport to pick up her sister. Rebecca said she decided she would be the one to help Silvia fit in.

“Right away I decided I was going to teach her things,” Rebecca said.

From learning the ABCs to learning colors “her way,” Rebecca said she sought to help Silvia assimilate into American culture and into their close-knit family. Even then, Rebecca said, she noticed Silvia’s drive to get things right.

“She wouldn’t give up at four years old at trying to communicate, at trying to learn, at trying to please,” Rebecca said.

She also found that while Silvia quickly caught on, she also had a strong will of her own, and could not be made to do things exactly as Rebecca wanted.

A few years later, Silvia had overcome the language barriers and was fitting in well with her sisters, but she began to have vision problems at age six. Silvia was later diagnosed with Star Gadt, a genetic eye disease that will continue to degenerate her vision.

Because of the disease, Silvia had to leave home and attend a boarding school for the visually impaired in Indianapolis five nights a week, returning home to her family on weekends.

But even with the adverse circumstances, Silvia’s mother, Mary, said Silvia faced the impairment without complaint.

“I saw her just absorb this as a part of life,” Mary said.  

As Silvia attended school in a different city from her family, Rebecca said, she also began to see how well Silvia adapted to the new environment and was able to get along with students from all over the state.

“She’s taught me perseverance,” Rebecca said. “She’s taught me acceptance.”

Now at 15 years old, Silvia said, the visual impairment is “definitely a struggle,” but it’s something she has learned to live with.  

“I’m more the person who will go with the flow and take what’s given to me,” she said.

In fact, after attending a convention and seeing the ways the visually impaired lived successful and normal lives, Silvia said she was inspired to pursue her dreams of becoming a legislator or occupational therapist.

Silvia’s other family members say they also have learned from her.

“I’ve learned from Silvia, and I’m thankful that she plays with the hand that she’s dealt,” said her father, Stan.

Her older sister Melissa Nuland says her own outlook had been affected by Silvia’s positive attitude.

“Over the years, Silvia just taught me a lot about faith and having a good attitude,” Nuland said.  

And for Rebecca, Silvia’s presence has helped shape her life.

“I’m able to see that having had her in my life made me a better person,” Rebecca said.  

But in the face of their praise, Silvia says she still feels she has things to learn from Rebecca.

“I would never have even guessed I had taught her so much,” Silvia said. “I look up to her.”

Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or