Jessa's Place is a home for adults with autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities. One of the biggest questions for parents of children with such disabilities is this: "What happens when we are gone (or no longer capable of providing the daily care needed)? Jessa's Place provides an answer. It was created by David and Katherine Grubb to provide a lifetime residence for their autistic daughter, Emma. Launched in 2017, Jessa's Place currently consists of one home in Charleston's East End (where Emma resides with her two housemates, Jason and Jackie). Jessa's Place is named in honor of Emma's older sister, Jessica, who tragically died as the result of a drug overdose in 2016 (see "Jessie's Story," below). In addition to the current location, David and Katherine hope to expand Jessa's Place to encompass additional homes and, hopefully, an entire intentional living community.
On March 2, 2016, Jessica Elizabeth Grubb, beloved daughter of David and Kate Grubb, died of a prescription drug overdose in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her passing is deeply felt and painfully heartbreaking to family and friends. It is, however, an all too common occurrence in the midst of our nation's growing opioid epidemic. What is not common, is Jessie's unique story, including the tragic circumstances of her death.
Jessie's struggle with addiction received national attention during President Obama's town hall forum on opioid addiction in Charleston, West Virginia, in October of 2015. At that time, her father David spoke emotionally about Jessie's battle (and her near fatal overdose in August of 2015). He said: "I held her in my arms and said, 'Jessie, don't leave us yet.'" With her mother Kate providing CPR and paramedics administering Naloxone, Jessie survived. At the conclusion of the forum, President Obama sought out Kate and said: "Moms need hugs." Subsequently, the President indicated that Jessie's story moved him deeply and helped him understand more clearly the nature of this terrible problem (as well as the need for additional resources). Because of the attention garnered by Jessica's condition, this memorial fund has been established to honor Jessica's life, spread the word about what actually happened to cut short that life, and support a cause very close to Jessie's heart.
Jessica was the second oldest of David and Kate's five daughters (including Katherine, Emma, Hannah, and Ellie). While all parents think that their children are wonderful, Jessie (who was called “boods” because she looked like, and had the contented demeanor of, a little Buddha when she was a baby) was truly special. She had great friends, and was a born leader. In high school, she led a student protest against the war in Iraq (and was suspended for three days). It was a proud moment for her family. When she went away to college (University of North Carolina/Asheville), she was innocent, excited, and ready to take on the world. During that first semester, she was raped. It changed her. She withdrew from school, returned to Charleston, and began questioning her self-worth. She kept all of this to herself, feeling ashamed, and somehow guilty. This was when she was introduced to heroin by a "friend." It made everything go away…all the pain, all the misplaced feelings of shame, everything. She no longer cared. And so, for many years her family struggled with a Jessie who was not truly Jessie.
But after the near fatal overdose in August of last year, Jessie changed again: she valued life, wanted to live, and was committed to a bright future. She was on a great path and loved Ann Arbor (where she had been living since September of 2015).
Jessie was an avid runner ("Run Like a Girl"). Unfortunately, she developed a bacterial infection related to a running injury. The resulting surgery took place on February 24, 2016. David and Kate went to Ann Arbor to be with her before, during, and after the surgery. They discussed with Jessica's doctors and hospital personnel that she was a recovering addict and that they were very concerned about her having any access to opioids for post-surgery pain management. David and Kate were assured that everyone understood the situation. Nevertheless, the discharging doctor (who said he had no idea that she was a recovering addict) sent precious Jessie home on March 1st with a prescription for fifty (50) oxycodone pills. And, despite her strong commitment to sobriety, Jessica still had an addict’s brain (and just couldn’t resist the temptation: a temptation that should NEVER have been placed in front of her). The police later said that eight of the fifty pills were missing. The last time David and Kate spoke with her was on the evening of her discharge from the hospital. She seemed fine, just very tired and sleepy. After eight days in the hospital, she wanted a good night’s sleep. She said that they would talk more in the morning. But David and Kate were never able to reach her after that. Jessie died in her bed, under her covers. She just went to sleep and never woke up.
The family's heartache is virtually unbearable, and it is compounded by the fact that this should NOT have happened. They are thankful, however, that something good has resulted from this terrible tragedy: passage of “Jessie’s Law” by the United States Congress! Specifically, the legislation named in Jessie’s honor requires that doctors and hospitals refrain from prescribing opioids and other dangerous, addictive drugs to known recovering addicts. (For example, if a patient is allergic to penicillin, most electronic hospital systems will not let a doctor write an Rx for penicillin – i.e., the system blocks it. There will now be a similar system in place for recovering addicts.) Jessica, whose pain was not severe at the time of her discharge, should have been sent home with nothing more than mild, non-narcotic pain medication. But she wasn't.
In addition to fighting for greater awareness on the part of health care professionals (and for "Jessie's Law" to require such information be prominently and conspicuously displayed on medical records), this memorial fund will also be used to assist in something extremely important to Jessica: the establishment of an intentional, residential living environment for her younger sister, Emma (who is autistic) and other adults with developmental disabilities. These homes, which will be the first of its kind in West Virginia, will be called "Jessa's Place." Jessie loved Emma, and had a knack for working with her. She and her sisters promised that they would take care of Emma if anything ever happened to David and Kate. Now, although Jessie can no longer be a part of this pledge during her life, she can play an important role with her enduring spirit (and your help). In 2017, the initial home for Jessa’s Place was launched in Charleston’s East End. Currently, Emma and two housemates (Jason and Jackie) reside there with full-time, around-the-clock staff. To maintain this effort and, if possible, expand to build or acquire additional homes, the family needs to raise funds and, hopefully, obtain donated land in the Charleston area.
Please . . . please, do what you can to help honor Jessie's life by making a donation today to "Jessa's Place" by clicking on the DONATE button (above). The initial goal is $100,000. However, much more will eventually be needed. Thank you so much.
Several of Jessie's oldest and best friends came together to honor Jessie's life by organizing an annual "Jog for Jessa." In addition to raising funds for Jessa's Place, the event also seeks to combat the stigma associated with substance abuse disorder. To learn more: facebook.com/jog4jessa.