Stroke forced cop into medical retirement; perseverance put him back on the force
Scott Davis looked at the fax and cried.
After surviving a devastating stroke – one that probably would’ve killed him had it not been for a remarkable series of circumstances – he’d survived three more strokes. Yet now, in his hands, was a piece of paper from the state of Iowa telling him that he had to give up the only job he’d ever wanted. He was being medically retired from being a police officer.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he muttered.
Scott was 39 years old, and looked and felt great. But a state panel decided the medicine he was taking to help avoid another stroke made it too risky for him to continue as a police officer. If shot, stabbed or otherwise injured, he might bleed to death.
So the department bid him a full-fledged farewell. His picture was hung on the wall among all the other retirees, and he was given a series of gifts: a flag, a clock and a wooden plaque with his badge screwed onto it.
They attached the badge a little bit too well.
The day of his first stroke, Scott was doing what he loved – speaking to schoolchildren about the dangers of drugs.
Only this time, Scott felt dizzy; it was as if a fire alarm was going off inside his head. Fearing that he might pass out, he asked to be taken away from the kids.
Someone called 9-1-1 and someone else summoned school nurse Cindy Hoeksema. As Cindy checked Scott’s blood pressure, she heard his police radio squawk with the news “officer down.” Her most pivotal role at that point was keeping him calm.
“Scott, this is Cindy. You’re going to be fine,” she told him. “We’re all here with you and 9-1-1 is on the way.”
Emergency Medical Technician Joe Downing was only about 12 blocks from the school when he got word that help was needed there for an officer who may have had a stroke.
When he found Scott, Joe began his medical evaluation with the most basic question.
“Scott, what’s your name?” said Joe, who was casually acquainted with Scott through their overlapping professions.
“You know my name!” Scott angrily said. He didn’t give an answer, however, because he couldn’t.
Then Scott’s speech became “totally garbled,” Joe said. “It got worse, then better, then worse.”
So Joe did what he was trained to do. He called the nearest certified stroke center, bypassing a dispatcher to speak directly to a doctor. He told them a stroke patient was coming, so they had a CT scanner ready and a neurologist on the way.
The clot was traced to Scott’s brain stem (an area in the back part of the brain). His best chance for survival was a rare procedure in which a catheter is sent through his groin to his brain so the clot-busting medicine known as tPA could be directly released in the problem area.
Only one doctor in the Midwest was capable of performing the procedure. And he happened to be at the hospital.
Just when it seemed like everything was falling into place, things went horribly wrong. Scott had another stroke on the right side of his brain during the procedure.
In the waiting room – where Scott’s family was joined by dozens of members of his professional family – a chaplain told them to brace for the worst. Meanwhile, the organ transplant team gathered in the hallway; Scott appeared ready to become a donor.
Yet he made it. His age and physical condition played a huge role, as did the textbook response and the good fortune of having the exact doctor needed already on the premises.
Scott had no idea how serious it was until the next morning, when a nurse who’d treated him in the emergency room walked into his room overcome with emotion.
“Who are you and why are you bawling?” he said.
“They told me you died,” she said.
Seven months later, Scott fought off another stroke.
Five months after that, he did it again.
Then came the testing that led to his medical retirement. But it also came with a loophole: If his condition ever changed, he could apply for reinstatement.
So when a doctor took him off the blood thinners that worried the state, Scott was ready to apply. A new woman was in his life then – Hannah, a paramedic – and she urged him to wait to make sure he did OK without the medicine.
Two months later, and just 17 months after he was forced to retire, a follow-up exam showed that Scott was doing just fine. Scott said, “Let’s go for it,” and Hannah agreed.
The state agreed, too, making Scott only the sixth person – and first in West Des Moines – to come out of medical retirement. Everyone had to figure out the logistics, things like getting him a new uniform. And a new badge to replace the one stuck on that wooden plaque.
Scott has been told there’s only a 10-percent survival rate for people who have had his type of stroke, and only 1 percent recover with little or no deficit. He’s a 1-percenter.
He had some short-term memory loss, but overcame it. His only lingering problem is numbness from the corner to the middle on the left side of his lip. His sons – Hunter, 17, and Garrett, 12 – love teasing him when food gets stuck there and he doesn’t realize it.
He’s been back on duty for more than a year. He’s been dispatched on medical calls for someone having a stroke, and feels an eerie sense of knowing what they’re going through. He’s also developed a close relationship with Joe Downing, the EMT so responsible for his great outcome.
“You’re my hero,” Scott tells Joe every time they’re together.
Scott also became a volunteer for the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association, eagerly telling the cautionary tale of how someone so young and strong could be stricken by a stroke – and emphasizing that stroke is treatable and beatable. (Click here to watch Scott, Joe, Cindy and others tell this story.)
“I still get choked up sometimes,” he said. “I survived because other people helped me. I want to help others, too.”
He got involved while retired. Volunteering as a Heart Walk ambassador helped him re-engage with the community and helped fill a void in his life. He made more than 30 appearances, including a visit to a classroom of paramedic students at the hospital where he was treated.
The teacher used his story as a case study, even explaining a change in protocol made following his case. She capped the lesson by saying, “The person we’ve been talking about is right here."
“When I stood up, there was a lot of clapping, a lot of `Holy cow,’” he said. “It was very cool to hear them saying, `I would’ve done this’ or ‘I didn’t think about that.’ Obviously, it will help them in the future.”
His latest project is organizing a Public Safety Team for his local Heart Walk. The police, fire, emergency medical services, and dispatch departments are competing to see which can raise the most money for the American Heart Association, with a goal of $20,000. He also hopes to raise awareness within the public-safety community, using a simple premise: “Our job is to take care of everyone else, but we also need to take care of ourselves.”
The walk is June 15. Scott won’t be there, though, because he has another commitment: That’s the day he and Hannah are getting married.