A former Somervell County Fire Department lieutenant sustained a brain injury that has erased his memories of his family and friends, but they are thankful he’s still alive.
Not only are they feeling blessed that he survived, some consider it a miracle.
A.J. Davis IV, whose stepbrother is SCFD Fire Chief Mark Crawford, suffered a cardiac arrest while driving on the highway between Amarillo and Canyon, where he lives, on Feb. 3.
Crawford said Davis had a history of heart problems, and was scheduled to have surgery to get a pacemaker and an internal defibulator.
Davis’ heart stopped and his brain was deprived of oxygen for an unknown length of time. After nine days in a coma, when Davis was finally able to talk, his family learned the stunning reality that he didn’t recognize or remember them in the least.
“It was communicated to us the night it happened that there was no hope, and we felt like they were keeping him alive long enough for us to get there,” Crawford said.
The mysteries of the brain are not exactly clear even to medical experts, so Crawford and their parents are still trying to absorb the situation.
“He knows how to read, he knows songs, but he doesn’t know who anybody is,” Crawford said. “He has no memories.”
Crawford played a video that he had recorded of A.J. listening to a famous song called “Going to California.” The short video showed him singing the words to the song by Led Zeppelin — one of his favorite bands.
“He’s functional, but he has no memory,” Crawford said. “It’s like Alzheimer’s in reverse because he’s slowly getting better instead of getting worse.”
Davis is making improvements, gradually.
“When he first started talking, he would respond to your questions — very simple things,” Crawford said. “Now, in rehab, they are teaching him how to use a phone.
“He’s restless, and he likes to spontaneously get up and take short walks. He understands humor. It’s kind of like re-booting a computer. He’s becoming a new person.”
Amazingly, with his pickup still traveling at highway speed on cruise control, Davis had sustained no other major injuries despite the fact the vehicle veered into a ditch, barely missed a road sign, went through a fence and knocked down two poles before finally coming to a stop in a field.
A 17-year-old from Happy — a small town near Amarillo — stopped to try to help, then flagged down a vehicle — which by coincidence contained his boss where he works, along with her husband. They both are certified in CPR and tried to revive him until first responders arrived and transported him to a hospital.
The woman was Shannon Blalock, park superintendent of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, where Davis works as maintenance supervisor. She also is a former Somervell County resident, formerly having been the superintendent at Dinosaur Valley State Park of Glen Rose, which is where Davis used to work also.
“The timing was incredible,” Blalock said of the fact that they were the ones flagged down by the young man who first realized Davis had crashed. “You can’t describe it without using the word miracle.”
Davis was on his way to the Blalock’s home after they invited him to eat with them, something they had done several times before.
She said the young man who flagged them down after seeing the pickup swerving told them it may have traveled about a mile on its own.
“And it never hit anything of significance, which I think is incredible,” Blalock said, noting that he was unconscious and had no pulse when they got to him.
The pickup was still in “drive” with the engine running, so Blalock’s husband, Andy, grabbed an ax out of A.J.’s tool box and broke out a rear passenger window to get to him and start CPR. Crawford speculated that A.J.’s foot or leg may have touched the brake, shutting off the cruise control and allowing it to slow down.
She said that although she and her husband are both good friends with A.J., their CPR training enabled them to get through the situation without panicking.
“All you’re worried about is assessing the situation and doing all you can do to improve the situation,” Blalock said. “We knew he had pre-existing heart conditions.”
Blalock said all of the employee at the state park are close, and want A.J. to return to work as soon as possible.
“We need him back. He is part of our family,” Blalock said. “We’re just super hopeful.”
Mark was showing A.J. some of his pictures on Facebook last weekend. When he saw one of him with his boss, Blalock, taken at the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, he started crying.
“He was swiping through them and suddenly stopped on a picture of him and his boss wearing their park uniforms,” Crawford said. “He said he didn’t know her, but while he was studying the picture he started crying. He didn’t know why, so obviously there was an emotional tie — but without the memory.”
Davis, 41, had lived in Canyon for a little over two years. He joined the SCFD in March 2012, and was voted Rookie of the Year in December 2013. His SCFD peers also later voted him to the position of lieutenant.
“He just had good leadership qualities,” Crawford said of A.J., who has been living in a physical rehabilitation facility in the Dallas area since being released from Arlington Medical City. He had been moved there from an Amarillo hospital in order to be closer to the family.
“They are doing therapy to help him function,” Crawford said.
Some of the things the family has learned in the aftermath is that A.J. resists information overload.
“One of the hard lessons we’ve learned is that everybody who sees A.J. wants to try to connect with him, and that will quickly overwhelm him,” Crawford said. ”So we learned not to bombard him with ‘Do you remember?’ — this type of questioning. That’s why his care providers limit who can visit him.”
One curious fact is that A.J. — so far — seems to have none of his own.
“He does not have curiosity,” Crawford said. “He doesn’t have a drive to know. Maybe that will change.”
Crawford drove his brother to a Dallas-area fire station, to see if that would trigger any memories. Crawford said A.J. has no recollection of being a firefighter, but once they arrived, he knew how to put the helmet on “and fasten the straps properly, which is not easy.”
A.J. moved to Glen Rose from Burleson, where he and Mark had grown up together in the same home. A.J. didn’t live in Glen Rose for very long before moving to Canyon, but it marked an entirely new chapter for him, according to Crawford.
“He moved here (to Glen Rose) to start a new life,” Crawford said. “I think he recognizes that Glen Rose was good for him — that it changed his life. He rededicated his life to the Lord. That (moving from Burleson) was part of his transformation.”
Crawford said that A.J. is “the comeback kid.”
“I believe it’s part of his overall testimony — the continuation of his life’s testimony,” Crawford said. “My hope is for a full recovery. Doctors have pretty much said anything could happen. When it first happened, the neurosurgeon told us he would be dependent for the rest of his life. We just kept praying. I’m expecting miracles.”
Mark has read stories about others who have suffered brain injuries, and came to the conclusion that every case is different.
Crawford is also looking at the big picture.
“I believe it’s part of his overall testimony — a continuation of his life’s testimony,” Crawford said.