Survivor's story

Christina Davis' experience, as told to her by those who were there

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Christina Davis tells her story in the same way adults talk about their early childhoods. They retell the stories they have heard, and as they tell over and over again that funny story from when they were 2, they feel as if they almost can remember it.

Whole months are missing from Davis' memory. But, she said, "I've heard the story so many times, I remember it now."

Davis has lived in Steamboat Springs since 1992. Her aunt moved here when she was a child, and during the years, her grandparents moved here, her mom and her sister moved here, and finally, she followed the family migration.

Her plan was to finish college and go to law school. She imagined herself living in Steamboat, working as an attorney.

That was her plan when she moved to Denver for law school. She was 28, smart and engaged, with a big wedding in the works. It was not her plan, she said, to get pregnant. But when the pregnancy test came out positive, she happily decided to keep the baby.

What Davis didn't know about herself, but what she was soon to find out, was that

during her life, a mass of abnormal blood vessels called an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) had been collecting in her brain.

She was four months pregnant, living in Denver and working at a downtown attorney's office.

It was Sunday night when the headache started. She blamed the lobster she had eaten for dinner. Rob Davis, then her fiance and now her husband, told her to go lie down.

The next morning, her headache was worse and she was vomiting. She called in sick to work. When her finace came home from work that night, he found her standing in the kitchen. Pills were all over the floor, and she looked scared.

"I didn't know who he was," Christina Davis said.

Rob Davis called her obstetrician, the only doctor she had in Denver and was told to get her to the emergency room as soon as possible. Whenever he tells the story of that drive, a drive that Christina can't remember, he talks about how he had to lean over and hold her door closed so she wouldn't jump out of the car.

"I thought I was being kidnapped," she said. The emergency room staff ran a CAT scan as soon as Davis arrived. They saw bleeding in her brain. She was having a stroke.

Another test showed doctors the AVM, a rare brain disorder that had been dormant for years but was triggered by the pregnancy-related increase of blood in her body. They also found evidence of two other strokes she had suffered earlier in life without knowing it.

"Now that I know what a stroke feels like, I can remember those two other times. One happened when I was 19, and another one happened a year before," she said. At the time, she'd been given pain medication for debilitating headaches and was told they probably were caused by stress.

At age 28, at Rose Medical Center in Denver, with a 4-month-old fetus inside her body, doctors explained her options.

The AVM needed to be removed, and it would take four consecutive surgeries. They suggested that she terminate the pregnancy, which her husband said was not an option. Christina does not remember any of this, but said she's glad that he made that decision. Instead, they kept her in the hospital until her mind returned to normal and scheduled a cesarean section for a month before her original due date. Christina's brain would not survive a natural childbirth.

It would be almost a month before Christina's memory returned.

"You know that movie, '50 First Dates'?" she asked. "I was two-minute Christina. I would forget where I was and why I was there."

She was convinced the doctors were holding her hostage, and at night, she would rip the IVs out of her arm and pace the halls, yelling for help. Eventually, they made her sleep in a straitjacket.

The first thing Davis can remember for herself was waking up in her hospital bed, in an empty room. In front of her was a huge, handwritten sign: "You are at Rose Medical Center. You had a stroke."

She remembers feeling sad and lonely because no one was there.

"I thought no one cared about me," she said. What she didn't know, or couldn't remember, was that her mother had been staying in a nearby hotel for three weeks and had left her daily bedside watch only a day or two before.

Davis was released from the hospital three days later.

Davis' baby, Kailee, was born three months premature. She weighed 2 pounds at the time, but now is a healthy 4-year-old. After Kailee's birth, Davis underwent the necessary four brain surgeries, at a rate of one every four or five days, to remove the AVM.

"I've been on the road to recovery ever since," she said. "I remember things now."

Davis wasn't allowed to drive for two years after the surgery because she had no long-term memory.

"It was the simple things that I forgot to do," she said. "I couldn't read. I couldn't add. I had to learn all of that in rehab. But once it started coming back, it came back pretty fast."

Davis won't be going back to law school, and doctors say that she probably will never hold a regular job. But doctors also told her that she might never walk again, and she now does.

Most importantly, Davis, now 33, is well enough to care for her daughter on her own.

"I have a normal life. It's not what I thought it was going to be. It was not my plan to be a housewife," said Davis, who would have graduated from law school this year. "But I'm happy. I couldn't ask for a healthier daughter. I feel blessed.

"I'm a Christian, and I believe that God has a plan for everyone. Things might not turn out the way you wanted. Usually, they turn out better. Not a day goes by that I don't think about that."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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