SCHENECTADY – Victoria Gunter proudly showed off her special coin Sunday, holding it out between her 8-year-old fingers.
The coin, a challenge coin, had been given to her two days earlier by the Schenectady Police Department, who had also given her a tour of the station and an up-close look at a police car.
Victoria wants to be a police officer when she grows up – and be a rock star on weekends. But before she can do those, she must first deal with a rare condition that has attacked the joints on those same 8-year-old hands, as well as connective tissue throughout her young body.
On bad days, her condition forces her to use crutches, or even a wheelchair.
Friday, during her visit to the police department, was a good day in more ways than one.
“I think it ups her spirits more than anything else right now,” mother Jessica Ball told The Gazette Sunday. “It pushes her forward a little bit extra.”
Victoria, also known as Tori, is a native of South Carolina. But her condition, called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, required expert treatment that her doctors there couldn’t provide. Instead, the family was referred to Boston and Boston Children’s Hospital – 950 miles to the north. There is no known cure. Treatment is essentially management of symptoms.
To ensure Victoria receives the care she needs, the family has since essentially moved locally, to Scotia, where Ball’s brother lives. Scotia is a more manageable 200 miles to Boston. Victoria recently completed her 19th trip to Boston and there will be more. The family chronicles Victoria’s travels for family and friends on Facebook and Instagram, Traveling with Tori.
Victoria now attends Scotia-Glenville schools, though immune system issues have meant a tutor at home. She’s hoping to gain clearance to return to the classroom, at least part time, soon.
It was through school in South Carolina that she developed her interest in policing. She even befriended an officer there, Victoria’s mother recalled.
With the family now largely here, Bell said she reached out to some departments see if her daughter could get a police patch.
Schenectady police Lt. Ryan Macherone, who helps run the department’s Facebook page, responded.
“We here at the Schenectady Police Department have been told that you’ve been doing quite a bit of traveling lately, seeing doctors and working on feeling better,” the message posted March 15 to Victoria’s Facebook page read in part.
“We wanted to begin by sending along our support and encouragement as you continue to be brave each day, both for yourself and your family,” the message continued.
A Schenectady Police Department patch arrived days later. Victoria showed it off on her page, holding it up to her shoulder.
That early correspondence turned into Friday’s visit. The department posted about the visit on its own Facebook page. By Sunday, the post had been liked nearly 300 times.
A soft-spoken girl, Victoria remembered the police car visit, especially, and the equipment to catch speeders.
“Whenever they see cars go faster, they have a little box that tells them if they’re going too fast,” Victoria recalled.
She also brought the officers some gift bags she and her mother made up with candy, where each brand had its own police significance. It included Lifesavers, for instance, because police are lifesavers, Victoria explained.
Victoria called the challenge coin her favorite keepsake from the visit. On one side was the department’s logo, the other side was an angel.
“They said this is the angel that watched over the police,” Victoria said.
They also stressed the importance of getting it. Chief Eric Clifford presented the challenge coin to her personally, they said.
Macherone said the visit touched officers, too.
The department’s post Friday also noted something else: The department’s expectation that she will become an officer, just as she wants to be.
“We know this won’t be her last visit and hope that someday she’ll put that patch on her own SPD uniform,” the post read. “Even at this young age she already embodies some of the greatest qualities in a police officer.”
Bell called the visit important for her daughter because it left behind her current issues.
“It was just her and her future,” Bell said. “It was, ‘When you grow up and you get past this, you can come help us keep the community safe.’ There’s nothing involving what’s going to stop her. … It doesn’t matter. She wants to be a police officer. That’s what we’re focused on. That really made all the difference for her on Friday. I think so.”