TAMPA — He had to stay close to the hospital.
His wife was there, sick with swine flu and trapped in a medically induced coma. His premature daughter — delivered early because of his wife's illness — was in the hospital, too.
So night after night, Bryan Post, 24, slumped in a chair in Tampa General, or curled up in his car, not daring to go home to Citrus County.
After a few days, exhausted and needing a shower, he booked a hotel room and hoped he could find the $139 to pay for it.
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Laura Miner, 25, was reading tbt* one day when a story about the Posts caught her eye.
She felt so sorry for this young couple with the newborn and an 18-month-old daughter. That poor toddler must be missing her mom, Miner thought.
She decided she had to help.
Miner is a desk clerk at the Hampton Inn in Ybor City. She talked to her boss, showed him the story. Couldn't they donate a couple of rooms?
The manager gave her two rooms for a night. She called someone in the tbt* story to find out where Bryan Post was staying.
Turns out, the room Post had booked was in the Hampton Inn. Somebody else had taken the reservation.
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When Post got to the front desk and told the clerk his name, she said they had been expecting him. A suite with two queen beds and a kitchenette was waiting. She wouldn't let him pay.
She told him: There's also a suite with a Jacuzzi if you want to bring your daughter and her grandparents.
His toddler, Trinity, had been staying with his in-laws in Homosassa. The next day, they all moved into the Hampton Inn.
For the first time in almost a week, Post slept.
Days later, when he was able to bring his infant, Nora, home, he brought her to the Hampton Inn.
"It was such a relief to be able to have my girls there with their grandparents and still be close enough to be with Valerie at the hospital," he said. "It started out we were just going to be there a day or two. But then, when she didn't get better."
The hotel staff brought Post and his family toothpaste and toothbrushes, cookies, aspirin and Advil. Miner learned Post drinks Mountain Dew and Trinity loves animal crackers, so she stocked their rooms with both.
The hotel shuttle driver ferried Post and his in-laws to the hospital several times a day. "We were just trying to anticipate their needs," Miner said. "They never asked us for anything. And they were always so grateful."
Miner even babysat Trinity. She took the toddler out for pizza, to Westfield Brandon mall to ride the carousel.
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Days turned into weeks. In late September, when Valerie got worse, family members from Portugal, Brazil and Canada flew in to see her. They all stayed at the hotel, occupying 10 rooms.
The manager wouldn't let anyone pay.
"I wanted them to feel like they had a home here," Miner said.
On Sept. 28, on Miner's day off, she offered to babysit Trinity again. She took the girl to Wendy's, then spent the afternoon bowling. Outside the bowling alley, turtles were sunning themselves on rocks.
When Valerie Post died, her daughter was feeding Goldfish crackers to those turtles and holding the desk clerk's hand.
Lane DeGregory can be reached at email@example.com.