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Gainesville school rallies behind student recovering from stroke
Gainesville City Schools teachers purchase T-shirts Wednesday during a convocation ceremony at Gainesville Middle School. The money raised from selling the T-shirts will go to help a Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School fifth-grader who suffered a stroke and a brain aneurysm this July. - photo by SARA GUEVARA


Listen to 'One Gainesville'

A fifth-grade student who had a brain aneurysm and stroke in early July is starting the slow recovery process.

At the Gainesville City Schools convocation Wednesday, Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School Principal Will Campbell sold T-shirts in honor of Maggie Portillo and sang a song for her that also represents the school district’s theme: One Gainesville.

"This is for you Maggie. We miss you. Get better and come back to school," Campbell sang as teachers stood up and clapped. "One love, one goal, one heart, one soul, one mind, one voice, one child, one choice, one Gainesville.

Campbell wrote the song after Superintendent Merrianne Dyer asked him to sing at the convocation a month ago. With Maggie in mind, Campbell, his wife and friends wrote the song. Campbell donned a hat that Maggie’s mom threw to him on the last day of school during a talent show.

"Maggie loves music, especially Justin Bieber," Campbell said. "I thought I’d incorporate that hat and sing the song in her honor."

Maggie was playing on a moon bounce during the YMCA summer camp at New Holland Core Knowledge Academy on July 1 when she felt dizzy.

She stepped off the inflatable and asked camp counselors to call her mother. Before Veronica Portillo arrived, Maggie collapsed and needed CPR. She was transported to Northeast Georgia Medical Center and then transported to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for surgery.

"I happened to be in Atlanta with my wife for our anniversary, so when we got the phone call, we drove to Scottish Rite," Campbell said. "That night she had a stroke. Poor baby girl."

Maggie couldn’t undergo surgery once she arrived at Children’s Healthcare because her lungs were filled with fluid and her body couldn’t handle anesthesia. After the stroke that night, doctors had to reduce pressure around her brain stem and remove 40 percent of the cerebellum, a region of the brain that manages motor control.

"It mostly has to do with controlling balance, and a lot of people can function again and learn how to be well," said Veronica Portillo, Maggie’s mother, who works in the school system’s International Center. "That shouldn’t be a problem."

Maggie was placed in the intensive care unit for 20 days and began breathing on her own last week. Doctors are helping her start physical therapy. She now can withdraw from pain or cold sensations and shows facial expressions.

"She’s medically stable, so now we just have to figure out how much she can gain back," Veronica Portillo said. "It could take a year before we know how much she’ll be back to herself."

Campbell set up a profile on, a patient website with an online journal that allows friends and family to comment. Maggie’s page has received more than 5,500 views.

"The website has helped me so much when I get down. Everybody lifts me up," Veronica Portillo said. "When all this started happening, I knew it was one thing I can’t control. Overall, what we need are the prayers. That’s the most important thing to me."