MILFORD >> Former student athlete Danielle “Danni” Kemp, 19, lost her battle Friday to a rare, inoperable brain tumor, but remained brave and humorous to the end, her uncle, Bradley Taylor said.
Taylor said Danni, who was “nice to everybody” and “never complained,” was admitted to the hospital this week in preparation for a procedure Monday. All was well, then to everyone’s shock, he said, Kemp took a sudden turn and died Friday morning surrounded by family.
“She was a fantastic young woman – brave, humorous, funny, nice to everybody,” Taylor said. “Even when her body was failing, her heart was still there.”
They had recently joked that Taylor would have to approve of Danni’s wedding dress someday and give her dad, Cliff Kemp, plenty of tissues.
Kemp, a Division 1 softball player, and 2015 Foran High School graduate who was on the New Haven Register All-State team that senior year, was playing softball this summer with the Brakettes, and just a few weeks later was diagnosed with a rare, inoperable brain tumor.
The diagnosis came just as a rare kidney cancer she was diagnosed with in high school had gone into remission.
Her story of perseverance in the face of such obstacles grabbed attention around the globe, as well as in the Milford community, after Taylor of Milford, set up a GoFundMe campaign to cover any available treatment not covered by insurance.
The campaign that so helped Danni will continue in a different form to raise money for scholarships or medical research to help others diagnosed with the rare disease, Taylor said Friday.
Danni’s story touched so many that Taylor received more than 1,000 Facebook messages from as far away as India.
Above all, the family asked for prayers and positive thoughts throughout Danni’s fight.
Soon after her diagnosis, Danni posted in an optimistic message for friends and family that read in part, “I am a true believer in that God gives his toughest battles to his toughest soldiers.”
Kemp is the daughter of Cliff and Melinda Kemp. Cliff Kemp is an assistant football coach under Jeff Bevino at Foran. Bevino coached Danni Kemp during her high school softball career and the families are longtime friends.
“I am helpless to express my feelings of sorrow and pain to the loss of such a beautiful ray of beautiful light,” Bevino said. “She was the most beautiful person I’ve ever known. I know I share my sadness with so many others. What a tragic loss. We lost an angel.”
“My angel in the sky; love you more than words Dan,” Bevino’s daughter, Fallon, who played alongside Kemp, Tweeted Friday morning.
My angel in the sky; love you more than words Dan????
— Fallon Bevino (@fallonbevino) March 10, 2017
Kemp was a three-sport athlete at Foran until her diagnosis of a rare form of kidney cancer, after which she remained in softball as a catcher and second baseman. She was on the All-State team in 2015.
Her kidney disease went into remission after undergoing clinical trial treatment that cost $400,000 for four treatment sessions, but in that case, the cost was covered, Taylor said.
He said her brain tumor located in the pons region of the brain is so rare, there are only 13 cases on the East Coast.
She underwent radiation at Yale New Haven Hospital and even traveled to Germany for treatment, but was later too weak to return.
When she first became ill, Kemp was a rising sophomore at Stony Brook University on Long Island, there on a softball scholarship.
“Our hearts are heavy today and our love goes out to Danni and her family,” Stony Brook softball coach Megan Bryant said in a statement. “In all too short of a young life, Danni touched so many in a beautiful way.
“She fought so hard against this terrible disease, and showed us what true courage is. May Danni only know peace now.”
— Stony Brook Softball (@StonyBrookSB) March 10, 2017
Shawn Heilbron, Stony Brook Director of Athletics said, “Danni was a beautiful soul who had her entire life in front of her. I am devastated beyond words and heartbroken for her family and everyone who loved her. Her valiant fight over the past several months was an inspiration to all of us, and her impact on the Stony Brook Athletics family will be felt for many years to come.”
In early July of 2016, Kemp got hit in the helmet by a pitch while at bat. A game or two later, her vision was blurry and she couldn’t see a fly ball from the field.
A few weeks into it, she began experiencing balance problems, trouble focusing and dizziness. Doctors thought it was a concussion, as she had all the “classic symptoms,” Taylor said, but an MRI revealed the tumor that could have been there for a while, but they have no way of knowing for sure, Taylor said.
Because of the tumor’s location, surgery was not an option.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been made, but Taylor said the tone will definitely be to “celebrate” Danni’s life.
Sean Patrick Bowley and Jim Fuller contributed