PRINCETON — December was a big month for Bryan and Samantha Grimm.

Expecting their first baby, the young couple was just beginning to realize their dreams. Samantha worked on classes to become a pharmacy technician at National College, and Bryan finally landed a job as an officer for the Princeton Police Department, after eight months in the interview process.

“My first day on the job was Dec. 10, 2008,” he said.

Another important day would soon follow, as Samantha’s delivery date drew near. The Grimms knew they would welcome their baby girl with joy and open arms, but they also knew Kaydence Jade would have to be a fighter to survive.

Samantha noticed early on in the pregnancy that something didn’t feel right.

“One day, she just kept having stomach pains, so I said, ‘Let’s go to the hospital and get it checked out,’” Bryan recalled this week.

Emergency workers there performed a sonogram, but Bryan said they weren’t allowed to give the anxious couple any information. The next day, difficult news arrived in a call from Samantha’s obstetrician, Dr. Joe Ellington.

“He said there was an abnormality,” Bryan said.

Soon, the couple would learn little Kaydence had a condition called gastroschisis. Some of her organs appeared to be forming outside her abdomen.

“My wife, the first thing, she went home and started doing research into the condition so we could learn as much as possible,” he said. “They couldn’t tell us on a sonogram how bad it was going to be, so we just tried to learn what we could do to get prepared.”

Because approximately 40 percent of babies who develop gastroschisis are born prematurely and Kaydence needed to be near an neonatal intensive care unit, the couple opted to deliver their baby at Roanoke Memorial Hospital. With Samantha nearing her delivery date and Bryan needing to work at his brand new job, they made plans for her to stay in Virginia while he commuted to work and visit with her regularly.

“We went up on Dec. 17. I drove her to the Ronald McDonald House and left her and a friend there that night. I came back so I could work,” Bryan said. “The next morning, on the 18th, I got a phone call that her water had broke.”

He immediately headed for Roanoke, where Kaydence was showing signs of distress during the labor. Her heart rate dropped dangerously low, forcing doctors to perform an emergency Caesarean. That morning, Kaydence arrived, four weeks early and weighing in at 4 pounds, 13 ounces.

It was only after she was born that the Grimms knew how hard their baby would need to fight.

“It was pretty much a worst-case scenario,” Bryan said. “Her small intestine, her entire stomach and half of her colon were outside her body.”

The first time he met his baby girl, Bryan said she was lying on her back with those organs suspended above her in a preformed medical silo to protect them and gradually ease them back into her abdomen before a repair surgery.

“It was hard to see her like that, and I couldn’t hold her at first,” Bryan said. “But, I don’t want to be negative around her, or sad, because I know she’ll feel that.”

Instead, Bryan and Samantha set out to keep life as normal as possible in an impossible situation. Bryan took as much time as he could off from work to spend with his new family, but soon, he had to return to work in order to keep his job.

After her release, Samantha stayed a while at the Ronald McDonald House near the hospital, while Bryan commuted on work days and spent his days off in Roanoke. Soon, even the discounted rate at the Ronald McDonald House and Bryan’s salary weren’t enough to pay for the bills at home and the travel expenses they were facing between Princeton and Roanoke.

As soon as she was able, Samantha set out to find a way to help. She landed a job in a convenience store not too far from the hospital. Though her pay wouldn’t be much, Bryan said it would help pay for gasoline and food.

Wednesday, Bryan was driving a car that was 4,000 miles past time for an oil change and the brakes were “shot,” but it was still keeping him on the road to see his wife and baby.

In the meantime, Samantha had to move out of the Ronald McDonald House because parents are not allowed to remain there if both are working, Bryan explained.

That really left the Grimms in a bind, because they couldn’t afford any of the hotels in the area. He didn’t have any more vacation or compensated time off from work to find a solution, and though the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89 was more than willing to help, there just wasn’t any money in the bank.

The group just finished its Shop With A Cop program in December, and Princeton Police Department Office Manager Dee Sutphin said there was only $500 available. That’s when “the ladies” of the office stepped in to help. Sutphin, Patty Ballengee and Teresa Gallimore started making calls to find a better rate.

They located Colony House Motor Lodge and explained the Grimms’ situation. An angel known only as John offered a weekly rate they couldn’t believe, “just out of the kindness of their hearts.”

Since then, Samantha has been staying at the lodge, while Bryan works his regular shifts, does the best he can to get moved into a new home and travels between Princeton and Roanoke to see his baby.

“Bryan has continued to work a full 80 hours biweekly. Because he works for the city, he can’t just take time off with pay, and we can’t offer him vacation days he doesn’t have, because he gets paid with taxpayer money,” Sutphin said. “He’s got to work. He’s got to keep a home here for his family for when Kaydence is well.”

So, the FOP is currently accepting donations to be used to help the Grimms.

“It’s the Fraternal Order of Police, and that’s what we are. We’re here to help other officers in need,” FOP 89 President John Howell said. “Bryan is part of our family. His family — his wife and daughter — are part of our family, and we’ll do what we can to take care of them.”

In the meantime, Bryan and Samantha are focused on helping their little girl heal. During a surgery Tuesday, doctors removed the portion of her small intestine that was damaged due to her condition, reconnected the healthy parts of her organs and placed them inside her abdomen. She still has a tube that will be used to remove waste from her body. Then, it will help feed her, once her body is ready to absorb the nutrition from food.

If her healing progresses enough that she’s able to eat from a bottle before she outgrows the small tube, the little girl could only face one more surgery before her release.

“It really depends on how well she does with it all now,” Bryan said. “With everything we do, we have to take the same little steps — crawl, walk, run. It’s a slow process.”

He can’t hold his baby now, because of the surgery, but Bryan said he and Samantha have still learned a lot about Kaydence’s personality.

“As long as she has a pacifier in her mouth, it doesn’t much matter what’s going on around her,” he said. “Music soothes her.”

He played her music before she was born, and sweet melodies and lullabies continue to calm her.

Bryan said pictures also grab her attention; Samantha colored Winnie the Pooh pictures and took them to Roanoke for the little girl who already holds their hearts.

And, they look forward to holding her again, even if she usually prefers to sleep in their arms.

“We try to wake her up so we can see her eyes, but whenever we hold her, she just sleeps,” Bryan said.

He’s cautiously optimistic that this week’s surgery could be the last major one Kaydence faces. As long as her organs remain healthy, she shouldn’t face long-term problems as she grows.

“What she lost and had cut off will never be replaced, unless she has a transplant, but they will continue to grow with the rest of her body,” Bryan said. “I know she’s a fighter.”

He was hesitant to ask anyone for help, but he was happy to talk about his growing family and quick to express his thanks to the family he found at the police department and in the community.

“You know, I’m still the rookie, and the older guys, they pick on me,” he said. “But, they all treat me with respect, and everybody’s just been a big help. They’ve all said if there’s anything they can do to help, all I have to do is tell them.”

Anyone interested in making a financial contribution to help the Grimm family, may do so through the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, 100 Courthouse Rd., Princeton, WV 24740. Howell asked anyone sending a check to write “Kaydence” in the memo portion to ensure that the money reaches the family.

In addition, he said tax-deductible contributions could be dropped off at the Princeton Police Department, on Courthouse Road, or simply given to any Princeton Police officer.

During tough financial times, Sutphin said she knew many people don’t have money to give.

“If anyone wants to help and they can’t give money, it would be a big help if they’d just say an extra prayer for Kaydence and Bryan and Samantha,” she said.

For more information, contact the Princeton Police Department at (304) 487-5000.

— Contact Tammie Toler at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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