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Chase’s Story of Survival & Recovery

March 15th, 2017

January 12, 2013 was the day that would change Chase Davis’ life and the life of his family forever.

While hiking at Pocket Wilderness with two friends who were sophomores with him at the University of Tennessee, Chase suffered a terrible fall. In stepping across a small stream near the top bluff, Chase’s foot hit a slippery surface. He tumbled and was swept into the waterfall, falling feet first down the cliff. 

What happened immediately and in the years afterward are nothing short of a miracle. 

Chase’s friends James and Dan acted quickly, running down to pull Chase from the water where he was laying unresponsive from a deep gash in his head. Eric Thompson, another hiker on the trail saw them and called 911. Chase regained some consciousness, and his friends kept talking to him and encouraging him to stay awake, stay alert and to not give up. 

First Responders On the Scene 

Dozens of first responders from eight local agencies climbed 200 feet up the bluff to reach them. One of those responders was Scobey Newman, Hamilton County paramedic and LIFE FORCE veteran. They put Chase in a basket and lowered him down the bluff, then transferred him to a six-wheeler where he was taken to an ambulance. That ambulance met the LIFE FORCE helicopter to take Chase to Erlanger. 

“Dr. Philip Smith met us in the ER, and I truly believe he was our angel. He was completely honest even when the situation with Chase was very dire,” says Paige Davis, Chase’s mom. “He never gave me false hope, but everything he told me was with compassion – that’s just what I needed to help me through this terrible day.” 

Inside Erlanger’s Trauma Intensive Care Unit, Chase’s condition continued to worsen. His blood pressure soared and the pressure inside of his skull was increasing – indicating brain swelling. Dr. Peter Boehm, Sr., and Dr. Michael Gallagher with Chattanooga Neurosurgery and Spine, rushed Chase into surgery to insert a cranial shunt and relieve the pressure. Despite their efforts, Chase ultimately had to have a craniectomy to remove a portion of his skull in order to allow his brain to swell out.  Though the surgery was successful, Chase immediately faced another hurdle: pneumonia, which adversely affects the lungs. 

“One of the most difficult things was not knowing what would happen every day because Chase’s condition was changing so rapidly,” said Paige. “Sitting in the ICU waiting room was so stressful, but many of Chase’s friends and classmates came and prayed with us many, many times. Those prayers were a real comfort to me."

Acting Fast to Save His Life

Despite the high-powered antibiotics and all the work the doctors were doing to help Chase, he also was diagnosed with advanced respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and was on 100 % oxygen. His breathing continued to worsen, and the doctors placed chest tubes to help him breathe. Because Chase’s condition was deteriorating so rapidly, Erlanger physicians knew they had to take drastic measures to save his life. 

“I knew when there were so many people in the room, it was not a good sign,” says Paige. “The doctors talked to me about ECMO, a potentially lifesaving but very risky procedure. ECMO would give Chase’s lungs a chance to heal, but there was a real possibility of it causing bleeding in Chase’s brain.” Without the ECMO, Chase had a zero percent chance to live; with it; he had a two percent chance.  The odds were certainly against him.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or ECMO is a temporary support system for patients with severe respiratory or cardiac failure. It’s used for patients who are in critical condition to help the heart and lungs rest and heal. ECMO is only used when conventional therapies have failed to support the function of the heart and lungs adequately and when the risk of death is high and imminent. 

Chase was on ECMO for five days, and Dr. Philip Smith, trauma and critical care surgeon with University Surgical Associates, Erlanger chief perfusionist Steve Baldwin, and the ECMO team kept watch over him the entire time. Thankfully, the ECMO treatment began to do its job and it gave Chase’s lungs the time they needed to begin healing. His respiratory function began to improve and his lungs cleared. 

“I believe Dr. Smith went home for only 12 hours during that five-day period that Chase was on ECMO,” remembers Paige. He sat outside of Chase’s room, and there was a respiratory therapist with him 24/7. Even though this was a critical time, I rested easier knowing he was being watched so carefully.” 

Taking the First Step 

Chase continued to improve, and four weeks after his accident he was transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for therapy. There he learned to stand without assistance and begin the long road to recovery. “After Chase was released from the hospital, it was only the beginning of his recovery, but I didn’t realize how long that recovery would take,” says Paige.  “Brain injuries are a journey, and you don’t know what type of deficits they will cause. There are so many questions – will he walk again? Talk again? Eat again? You just don’t know.” 

After his time at Shepherd, Chase moved to an extensive rehabilitation program in Memphis that required Paige to drive Chase on a 3-hour round trip five days a week. After a year and because Chase was continuing to improve, they moved his treatment to Cognitive Bridges to help him learn how to read and address a new condition that resulted from his accident. 

Because of his brain injury, Chase was diagnosed with visual agnosia, which is the loss of the ability to recognize objects, faces, or places. He could still think, speak and interact with the world, but the condition made him unable to name or describe the use of everyday objects like a cup or a fork or knife. 

“Chase’s therapist at Cognitive Bridges has been amazing and has really helped him make great strides in his recovery. Just two years ago he was starting to recognize letters again, and now he’s reading 143 words a minute,” says Paige. “You don’t really see the physical deficits in Chase, but he’s still working to regain what he lost in the accident.” 

The Long Road to Recovery

Chase was just 19 years old in 2013 when he had this tragic accident that almost cost him his life. Now at age 23, he’s working diligently to restart his college career. During all these challenges, Paige and his younger brother, Cole, have been at his side and his biggest cheerleaders – knowing he could do anything he set his mind to do. Paige remembers that Chase always had an independent spirit and willingness to take charge, and she believes that helped him in his recovery.

“Chase is so determined, and he’s worked incredibly hard without feeling sorry for himself which would be so easy to do,” she says. “After going through so much he’s different, but I’m also starting to see glimpses of the kid he was before the accident – and also the man he’s becoming.” 

Standing on Faith 

Through it all, their faith in God is what Paige believes sustained them through this crisis. And Paige also wants everyone to know how much the prayers lifted on Chase’s behalf made a difference in their lives. 

“The first responders and surgeons and trauma teams at Erlanger may never know much they were prayed over every step of the way, and I’m so thankful they are doing this lifesaving and life changing work,” says Paige. “Looking back, I can see God’s hand working in every person who connected with us. Chase’s life is definitely a miracle, and I can’t wait to see what challenge he’s going to tackle next.” 

Chase's brother, Cole, Chase and James McLeod, one of the friends who helped save Chase's life. 

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