Clayton Davis spent part of his day Friday doing what a lot of 18-year-olds do – playing cornhole with his brothers. That doesn’t exactly sound like a reason to stop the presses, but when you consider that the Carroll County teenager just had a heart transplant less than two weeks before, it is nothing short of amazing.
“Who would have thought a week later he would be up doing what he is doing? That right there shows you the type of drive he has and the type of kid that he is,” said Randy Webb, one of Clayton’s FFA instructors at Carroll County High School. “From a teacher’s point of view, he is one of those kids that make teaching worthwhile. It’s just a pleasure to walk in the classroom and he is sitting there. You just see he wants to be there.”
Granted, it will be a while before Davis returns to classes at CCHS. He is expected to remain in Charlottesville for two months while he continues to recuperate and recover from the heart transplant he received Jan. 8 at the University of Virginia’s Medical Center. But as things stand now, Davis is well ahead of schedule.
“He is taking a walk twice a day, doing really good. He walked about 240 yards (Wednesday) in one trip and did that twice,” said Clayton’s mother, Kelly Davis. “He got his breathing tube out four days after surgery and normally it is at least eight days after. The doctors are pleased with him. He is real popular. One of the nurses said, ‘I have to meet Clayton. You are the most popular guy on the floor and that is hard when there are lots of cute babies around here. They all say he is so sweet and so polite – not a typical teenager.”
A junior at Carroll County High School, Clayton’s medical issues began as a baby as he had to undergo two major heart surgeries before the age of two. Each came with major bumps in the road, Kelly Davis said, which obviously led to concerns and fears before his transplant. At the age of eight, he had to undergo a heart catheter procedure.
“They knew he was going to have to have a new heart at some point. They said his heart was tired,” Kelly Davis said.
Since that time, Clayton had been living and doing just about everything most other kids his age are doing. But on June 2 of last year, he was placed on the heart transplant waiting list. Roughly six months later, the family got the call they were waiting for January 8 at about 10:30 a.m. Almost as soon as the call came that a donor heart was ready, obstacles immediately began getting in the family’s way.
“About 20 minutes after they called, they called back and told us not to leave yet. They said the donor had tested positive for Influenza B, the flu bug, so she said she would call us when it was okay to leave,” Kelly Davis said. “We had an ice storm on the way that afternoon and we were wondering if we should just go ahead and leave. We decided to wait and she called at 1 p.m. and said to come on. We went ahead and literally walked out the door and felt ice hitting our heads. It was not pleasant.”
Clayton may possibly be the first person ever to skin a fox on the same day he received a heart transplant. Coming from a farming family, Clayton loves to hunt, trap and fish. The night before, he went coyote hunting with one of his buddies. And while he didn’t land a coyote, he did harvest a fox.
“While we were waiting from 10 until 1, he and one of his good buddies were skinning the fox and we had one of our boys that was in Dugspur tell him the news while we were coming home from Galax,” Kelly Davis said. “He broke the news to him so Clayton went ahead and skinned the fox. He was hardly ruffled at all. He didn’t like the idea of missing school and the idea of being in the hospital so long, but other than that he was fine with it. He knows the Lord is on his side.”
Back to the ice storm, Clayton’s mother said the trip to Charlottesville was fairly sketchy at times as the ice fell at a heavy rate. Twice, the mirrors on the vehicle were icy and the road was slushy, and both times the family drove up on an accident.
“Thankfully they were on the other side of the road. We just kept praying to keep the road clear and never run into a traffic jam,” she said. “By the time we were going the other way on Interstate 81, Dale (Clayton’s father) said, ‘I have to go down Afton Mountain’ and he was a nervous wreck. We just kept praying harder and we got to Afton Mountain and it was dry as a bone. And just as we got down the mountains it started drizzling. The Lord got us there with no problems at all. We got there and checked in about 6:30. Then they prepped him and the actual surgery started at 10:07 p.m.”
Everything else just seemed to fall into place for Clayton. Kelly Davis said it was actually a blessing the donor had the flu because Clayton started at around 400 on the heart transplant waiting list. Recipients have to get to 20 or 30 on the list before they are accepted. Clayton was still only at about 200 on the list when the call came.
“That was another answered prayer. We prayed ever since he was diagnosed with having to have a heart transplant, he would go straight from the farm to being happy, healthy and strong right to the hospital to get his heart. We didn’t have to go to the hospital and he didn’t have to be sick,” she said. “And because of that when they called to say don’t leave, they said, ‘We are going to check with five other transplant teams and see what their opinions are,’ and four of the five other transplant teams they talked to said yes, they would do it. And it was all because he was so healthy and came straight from the farm. If he was sickly, he would not have been eligible for a heart from a donor with the flu. That is why it was passed up from 1 to 200 most likely. Since he was so healthy and strong they said go for it, and thank the Lord so far he is doing great.”
An Inspiration to those who know him
Paul Perkins has gotten to know Clayton and the Davis family well from his three years as pastor of Bethel Church, where the family attends. Everything about Clayton, from the way he handled himself before the surgery to his attitude in recovery, serves as a positive role model for those that know him.
“The first thing that comes to mind is Clayton himself is a huge inspiration. It was last Sunday I brought it up to the congregation. It is not just amazing that he got the heart, but that he had so much heart before the operation,” Perkins said. “Everybody had been praying for him before and was worried about him before, but the thing that stuck out to us and everybody at church is he is just an inspiration. It is amazing to us when you think of Clayton is this is a nice Christian young man. He’s just a great kid. He takes up the offering at church a lot. He would always exercise and participate with the youth games even though he was as weak as he was.”
Perkins said when Clayton was put on the heart transplant waiting list, he was told he would only match 20 percent of the hearts that would be available. In the end, his donor heart was a perfect match. Those factors, put together with his low placement on the waiting list, almost seem like a case of divine intervention.
“Absolutely, to go from 200th on the list to only a 20 percent ability to match – that means 80 percent of the hearts they were looking for would not work for Clayton. Not only was it a shot in the dark with a 20 percent that they were blessed enough to find it, but the flu, 200th on the list and a 20 percent chance, it is crazy everything matched up,” Perkins said. “That kid has always been positive and he is a teenager on top of that. It is like he has a humility and a godliness about him that is rarely seen in a young man his age. When I went to see him at the hospital he couldn’t make a lot of facial expressions, but he smiled as good as he could and he gave us a thumbs up even though he was just out of surgery.”
Bethel Church has been preparing meals for the part of the family still in Dugspur while Clayton is in the hospital. It is also serving as a donation drop-off for those who want to help the family with operational expenses – gas to get to and from Charlottesville and so forth during the transitional period. Future fundraisers are also planned to help with medical expenses. In the meantime, Perkins said donations can be made at Bethel Church located at 585 Deer Ridge Road in Hillsville anytime Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by calling (276) 766-3502 (ask for Brittany). Donations will also be accepted at the church on Sundays at 11 a.m.
Randy Webb said the CCHS FFA and Building Trades programs are also working together to have a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for Clayton. The dinner is tentatively set for Sunday, Feb. 11 in the CCHS cafeteria from 12 to approximately 4 p.m. He said a GoFundMe account has also been set up for Davis and his family.
Clayton is currently the Vice President of the FFA at Carroll County High School. Webb calls him a one-of-a-kind student, and one who leads by example to other students.
“Everybody understands the medical issues he had leading up to the heart transplant. But a lot of the things we do for FFA to raise money, like growing crops for the farm, he would come down this summer and help work with other kids and actually push the other kids along because if he was willing to work as hard as he was, they were, too,” Webb said. “He is definitely a leader, no doubt about it. He is one of those people that have a certain type of magnetism about him that draws people to him. He comes from a super family. I had two of his older brothers in class and they served as FFA officers and he followed in their footsteps. He is an exceptional young man. He is on the forestry team and he’s been to the state convention every year so far.”
Webb said fundraising efforts back in the fall prove the kind of person Clayton is and the example he sets.
“The officers raised a bunch of money to go to Indianapolis to the National FFA Convention. All of them said they were going to help Clayton raise money he needed to go so he wouldn’t have to pay for any,” Webb said. “And I swear, that kid raised more than any of them, more than his part and some of his part went to actually help some of the others.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN