Infant brings healing after young dad's death

The Baltimore Sun

Both life-changing phone calls came on Sundays.

The first, on July 6, was from her son's best friend. There had been a terrible car wreck in Edgewater, and Eric was badly injured. He died nine days later.

The second call, on Aug. 17, was from a child support worker. Eric had a baby boy. Karen Rogers was a grandmother.

In the months since she lost her firstborn son and learned about her first grandson, Karen Rogers has forged a close relationship with the baby's mother, Samantha Blair, a young woman estranged from her own mother.

Rogers and Blair hadn't known each other before Eric's death. Now, they spend nearly every weekend together.

The two women talk on the phone every day. They cross the Bay Bridge to spend time at each others' homes, Rogers' in Stevensville and Blair's in Edgewater, where she lives with her father. They gathered at Blair's home on Christmas Eve and at Rogers' house on Christmas Day.

"It's all probably moving too fast," Rogers says. "But it helps me. It's healing to me."

Caleb James Blair - 7 pounds, 6 ounces and 22 inches long - was born May 23. Eric Joseph Bond knew about the baby, but he wasn't sure he was the father. He didn't tell his family.

He didn't lay eyes on Caleb until early July, just days before the accident. By then, a court order for a paternity test had arrived in the mail. Samantha, 18, was seeking child support and needed genetic proof that Bond was Caleb's father.

"Once he saw him," Blair says of the one time Bond met the baby, "I know he knew."

Rogers describes her son as "really outgoing and fun-loving," with friends of every age. He loved music and dancing and sports. He had recently taken up golf. He talked about studying digital music production, she says.

Bond grew up in Edgewater, but as a teenager he moved with his mother to the Eastern Shore. He graduated from Kent Island High School in 2005 and returned to Edgewater.

There, he lived in a house with his childhood best friend, Fritz Henkensiefken, and the two of them worked construction jobs.

Samantha Blair met Bond about two years ago, when her older sister moved in with Henkensiefken and Bond. No romance ever blossomed, but Blair says she is confident Bond would have helped to raise the baby.

"He would have made a great father," she says.

The accident happened just after 9 p.m. July 6, not far from where Bond was living.

He had been driving Henkensiefken's white Ford pickup truck and took a curve on Shoreham Beach Road too fast. The truck rolled several times and crashed into a garage. No one else was injured.

Word spread quickly in the small community. By the time Bond was en route to the trauma unit at Prince George's Hospital Center, Henkensiefken had called Karen Rogers, who was in Ocean City with her husband, Nelson Rogers.

Doctors told her about the skull fractures. She saw the many tubes, including one coming out of the top of his head. But there wasn't a scratch on him, and she believed he would survive.

Friends and relatives from Edgewater and from the Eastern Shore came in droves.

The next nine days, the mother says, were a blur of hope and fear and sadness. On one of those days, Henkensiefken pulled Nelson Rogers aside: There was something Karen should know.

Nelson waited a day to tell her, and she "couldn't process it," she says.

"I told Fritz, we need to focus on getting Eric well, and then we can get everyone together to talk about this."

Confronted with so many emotions and new situations, she put that one out of her mind.

Tests on July 15 showed that Eric Bond had no brain activity. He couldn't breathe on his own. Doctors pronounced him dead at 7 p.m.

Karen Rogers set about fulfilling her son's wish to become an organ donor. That Saturday, she buried her son.

On Monday, she was grieving but less frantic, and her thoughts turned to the baby. With the court order for the paternity test in hand, she went to the child support office in downtown Annapolis and met with an attorney for the agency.

Like Blair, Karen Rogers wanted the peace of mind that only a paternity test could provide.

Rogers and the attorney worked quickly to get the legal documents necessary to order the organ bank to preserve a piece of Bond's tissue for DNA testing.

"She wanted to do everything she could to solve that mystery," said Patricia Feeney, director of Anne Arundel child support.

Elizabeth Lee, a child support attorney since 1993, says she was blown away by the situation: "Days of Our Lives couldn't have written a better story."

Less than a month later, the results were back. Lee was leaving for vacation and made the phone calls to Rogers and Blair on a Sunday afternoon.

Rogers waited a day and called Blair. They met at the Blair home in Edgewater the next day.

"I was nervous as heck," Blair says.

But the two families soon found they connected on many levels. They even discovered they had mutual friends.

"It's deep," said Jim Blair, Samantha's father. "For all of these things to keep happening, we knew it was meant to be."

Jim Blair says he is happy that Caleb will grow up knowing his paternal grandparents and, in that way, his father.

At a recent gathering at the home in Stevensville, where Karen Rogers keeps a large portrait of her son on a living room wall, Jim Blair was struck by how much Caleb looks like Bond.

The baby wore a white onesie with the phrase: "My father gave the gift of life." Bond's heart, liver and a kidney all were transplanted.

"You put that picture next to him, and you can really see the resemblance, can't you, Karen?" Jim Blair said. "The ears and the round head, especially."

The baby now shares something else with his father.

On Dec. 18, Samantha Blair received word that her legal application to change Caleb's name was granted. Caleb James Blair is now Caleb Eric Joseph Bond.

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