BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Betty Jo Bell, a longtime advocate for children with special needs, has died. She was 80.

The Bell Center for Early Intervention Programs, which Betty Bell founded in 1984, confirmed her death on Monday.

“The Bell Center is deeply saddened to acknowledge the passing of Betty Bell, our founding director, on Sunday,” the Birmingham-based organization said in a social media post. “Betty selflessly gave her entire life to the service of children with special needs and their families, and thousands of lives have been touched and changed by her commitment and love.”

Bell grew up in Corsicana, Texas and attended the University of Texas-Galveston, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She later received her master’s degree in nursing from the University of Florida.

After serving on the faculty of the University of Alabama for 13 years, Bell founded her namesake center, pioneering early childhood intervention in the state.

Initially, the center worked with children born with Down syndrome, but under Bell’s guidance, it quickly expanded services to children born with cerebral palsy, spinal bifida, and other genetic disorders.

In 2008, Bell was inducted into the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame.

After the Bell Center confirmed her death, mourners flooded social media with remembrances of the trailblazer. One parent said that without Bell, his family could not have made it through his son’s short life.

“No matter what, she was always there: Diet Coke and rollers always packed and ready to come to our house or a hospital stay,” he said.

The Bell Center said plans to honor Betty Bell’s life “will be forthcoming.”