Bailey Hope was born October 16, 1999 and I named her Bailey Hope Kelly. If you see a correlation between her first name and the #24 Champ Bailey jersey I am pictured in, that is for a reason. I named her after the Washington Redskins first-round draft pick that year.
Yes, I was in my second-year of working in the pro scouting department at the New York Jets at the time, but I was still a Redskins fanatic just as I had been since I was eight years old. I still bled burgundy and gold. A paycheck did not change that.
She was this little baby girl. She was this little miracle. I was not supposed to even be able to have children after I had just gone through testicular cancer my first season with the Jets. A world renowned doctor at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in Manhattan told me I “probably never would be able to have children,” after having one of my testicles surgically removed because of the tumor.
When someone says they would ‘give their left nut to be in the NFL,’ I am like, ‘boy, do I have a story for you.’
After the Jets missed the Super Bowl by one game, she arrived during the next season. I held my gift from heaven in my arms.
A good friend of mine, Marc Trestman emailed me shortly afterwards. Trestman urged me to get home and spend time with her and how that was “incredibly more important than staying late at the office.” Of course, I did not listen.
Working around the clock 24-7-365 (366 on leap year) is a way of life in the NFL. There is always more work than time, another player to look at….something to do….It was routine I would get in the office around 8 a.m., and leave out of there around 10-11 p.m., sometimes later. I can still hear the words jokingly said to me by our offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis when I would walk by down the hallway past his office door.
“Dan, don’t you wanna win?!”
I still get a chuckle to this day thinking about that. Coach Weis was always good to me.
Bailey Hope was a late walker. She started walking around 14-months old. Then one day, she started losing her balance and falling. Her eyes had this subtle little darting motion. One night she was screaming and crying in her crib at 15-months old. She was inconsolable. My first wife, Bailey’s mommy, Ruth and I rushed her into the emergency room. Doctors ran a battery of tests, including Spinal Meningitis with this long needle in her back, we had to step out of the room for.
The next day after an overnight stay at the hospital, the doctor asked for us to go to this conference room as a social worker stayed with Bailey Hope. She was as rambunctious as ever.
The doctor walked into the conference room and said, “There is no easy way to tell you guys this, we found a tumor the size of a softball above her left kidney. Your daughter has Neuroblastoma cancer.”
I do not remember anything else he said.
A team of doctors surgically removed her tumor and called us back into the office a few weeks later, after the initial pathology study was done. Turns out there was “multiple copies of the gene” in her body that produced the original tumor. Her diagnosis was elevated to stage four, the worst stage of cancer.
By this time I had gone down to part-time at the Jets as the team’s CFL Scout, evaluating talent north of the border.
Bailey Hope underwent five surgeries, six rounds of chemotherapy, and a bone marrow transplant over the next few months that made my battle with cancer look like a walk in the park.
She passed on Christmas Day, 2001 as her mother rocked her in a rocking chair, lovingly holding her baby. The decision came down to me to remove her from life support after a team of doctors had exhausted every life-saving heroic effort. After she had grown her little wings and flown back to where she came from, her mother gently handed her little two-year old precious swollen body to me. Her chest was all black-and-blue from the chest compressions.
That night I was standing outside with a pastor friend, who ironically was an old man with a big white beard who looked like Santa Claus. I was looking up at the stars in the night sky thinking of her. I asked him, “Why didn’t God answer our prayer for a miracle?”
He responded, “That’s where you guys are wrong. He did answer it. The miracle was that she was here with us in the first place.”
Bailey Hope is 22 today. Every time I still hear the song, I can only imagine, by Mercy Me, I break down thinking of her dancing in the clouds with Jesus.
Whoever said, “time heals all wounds,” has never lost a child. It doesn’t. All these years later even… I cried a lot writing this. I carry this in my soul. She is part me and she is part of me. It just takes a date on the calendar or me thinking of her favorite treat, a McDonald’s vanilla shake for the tears to show up.
However, I am not without hope. I could never had made it this far without that hope. It was during her battle with cancer we were led to living with a pastor and his family, and it was there I prayed to receive Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior just months before she passed. My little two-year old daughter’s illness and our circumstances had led me to making the most important decision of my life.
It’s funny, I wanted to name her Bailey Champ, but the summer before she was born, my now ex-laws dragged me to a church service I did not want to be at, and the whole service was about hope. I said, “That’s perfect, let’s name her Bailey Hope.”
Little did I know at the time.
Happy 22nd Birthday B-op (how she said her name). Oh my God is this hard.
I love you,
Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK.