NORTON SHORES, Mich.—It’s been 5 years since a little boy died on his school playground after he accidentally inhaled a piece of gravel, but his parents found a way to keep his memory alive for generations to come.
Nikolas Wypa was on the swing set at Churchill Elementary in 2012 when a pebble from the schoolyard somehow got lodged in his throat. He was only 6 years old, his family still struggles with the loss.
“I finally posted last week the picture I took of him [Nikolas] two minutes before he died," said Lisa Wypa, Nikolas' mother. "It took me 4 years to look at it, and 5 years to post it. He was so happy 2 minutes and 38 seconds before it happened. I’m like, 'how could this have happened?'”
Lisa and her husband David came back to the place their son passed away, the same place that holds their most painful memory.
“It’s heartbreaking. We miss him so much,” said Lisa.
However, that same painful place holds so many good memories of their son. Lisa said they only live a mile away from the school, and it was Nikolas’ favorite place to be.
The playground has since turned into somewhat of a memorial for Nikolas. The beautiful arch entrance way, decorated with butterflies is an ode to Nik and his “social butterfly” personality. A plaque with his picture and poem hang from the outside wall of the school, a pathway named in his honor, and the playground with a complete face lift.
“The piece of pea gravel was inhaled into his throat and it could have easily been any child, and I don’t want any parent to go through the nightmare that we did,” said Lisa.
The school renovated the whole playground and three others in the district, getting rid of any pea gravel. Lisa pointed out the place her son took her last breath by the basketball hoops. She said she believes he was trying to get to her when he was choking.
“Sometimes I want to come here to get peace. I feel like this is where he went so I get strength sometimes coming here to know this is where he took his last breath, but it’s still hard,” said Lisa.
Lisa and David have given away four scholarships every year in Nik’s name to kids for continued education. Their contributions in fundraising efforts total $10,500 in scholarship money. On Thursday, it will be a very emotional scholarship donation, as the scholarship will go to students in a very special class.
“It’s Nik’s 5th grade class. He should be in 5th grade this year so the scholarship will be going to his classmate,” said Lisa.
This is just one of the many ways they keep Nik’s memory alive. In fact, his memory is spreading all over the world through his favorite toy: Matchbox and Hot Wheels. So now they tie a note to Matchbox cars and leave them wherever they go, and kids love finding them, and passing them along. They’ve been spotted locally and in places as far away as Argentina, Canada, and the Great Wall of China.
“I want Nik’s death to bring out he was a happy little boy and a positive little boy and if we can bring just a piece of him back to show his six years on this earth meant something//20”47 when you lose a child at that age you just want the positive,” said Lisa.