Detroit Dad Curtis White’s Love Helps Carry Injured Teen Daughter Who Survived Gunfire

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Gunshot survivor Dreia Davis and her father Curtis White  (photo: Salwan Georges/Detroit Free Press)

Dreia Davis shouldn’t be alive.  Yet she is.  Doctors were doubtful Davis would survive after she was shot in the face in a drive-by shooting on Detroit’s east side in August 2009.

But she did.

Although the shooting left Davis in a wheelchair, she has continued to beat the odds, despite setbacks and recurring nightmares of that late summer night, when she nearly lost her life at age 13.  Two heart attacks, numerous surgeries and a stroke later, Davis, 19, is determined to reclaim her life and achieve her dream of attending the University of Michigan and becoming a defense attorney.

There’s no denying Davis still has a long road ahead, but she has found unparallelled love and support in the one person who has remained by her side, caring for her and pushing her forward: her father, Curtis White.  “It feels great to have him in my life,” she said while gripping his hand. “He’s had me since I was 3 weeks old. I love him.”

White, a single father, has relatively no help in caring for his daughter. Her mother, who still lives in Detroit, is not in the picture, White said, and his own family is unable to help.

But the father and daughter have formed a bond that grows each day.

“She’s my daughter, my best friend,” White, 45, said. “She knows me inside and out. It’s us against them. It’s us against the world. We beat the odds. We can do anything together. Me taking care of her, that’s second nature. I never had my dad, and I went through hell not knowing my dad. … So I have to be there, be here for her. That’s what’s given me the drive to do this for her. Since she’s come this far, the sky’s the limit. I’m never going to give up on her.”

Davis was a lively teen.  She was a popular, nearly straight-A student and a head cheerleader at Greenfield Union School, on 7 Mile and Charleston.  Before the shooting Aug. 5, 2009, Davis asked her father whether she could go to her friend’s house. He said yes. But later, he discovered she had caught the bus to go to another friend’s home, where he specifically told her not to go.

“Like a typical teen, she was being rebellious,” he said.  He called her and told her to come home.  “I told her, ‘Don’t make me come over there and get you,’ ” he said. “She promised she would make it home. The last thing I heard from her was, ‘Daddy, I’m on my way home. I love you.’ 

He started pacing when 8 p.m. came.  Then 9 p.m. passed.  As 10 p.m. neared, a feeling of dread swept across White. “I could feel it in my stomach,” he said. “I couldn’t pinpoint it, but something was not right.”

Minutes later, his daughter’s aunt called. In a trembling voice, she told him to come to the hospital immediately.  “I couldn’t even comprehend what she was telling me,” he said. ” ‘Shot in the head?’ ‘What do you mean?’ As soon as I got there, they met me with the chaplains in the emergency room and I was already thinking it was over.”

Davis, an innocent bystander, was shot at the corner of Emery and Eureka, near 7 Mile on the city’s east side, while she talked to some friends. She was the only one injured.

“All it took was one unfortunate night of her not listening for a tragedy to occur,” White said.

After she was shot, Davis was rushed to the hospital and taken into the ICU, where doctors used an automatic external defibrillator to shock her heart back into rhythm after she suffered a heart attack on the operating table.

Doctors told White that his daughter had a 7% chance of making it.  “I just lost my mind. That’s my only child,” he said. “From there, it was a whole lot of hoping, praying and being at the hospital 24/7. When I saw her in the emergency recovery room, I was shocked. Her head had swelled up to the size of a pumpkin.”

After several months on life support, doctors told White it was likely his daughter wouldn’t recover, and that he might have to consider removing the support.

“Doctors were telling me she was going to be a vegetable,” he said. “After the second heart attack and stroke, I started considering it. But I had a good cousin that came down from Battle Creek. She said: ‘God can do anything. Put your faith in God.’ And I swear on my life, that as soon as I did that, she made a drastic turnaround.”

Davis has had other setbacks along the way, including a spinal leak from her nose that required an emergency surgery. For White, it’s hard to keep track of all the surgeries his daughter has had — they include multiple facial procedures and removing part of her skull.

Davis is now confined to a wheelchair and suffers from spasticity, which severely limits movement on the left side of her body.

Doctors performed a tracheostomy to help Davis breathe, and she now has a trach tube in place, along with a gastrostomy tube to help her receive nutrition daily. The trach tube makes it hard for Davis to talk at times. Doctors were never able to safely remove the bullet, which remains lodged in her head, White said.  “The recovery was hard and long,” he said.

A 16-year-old male was arrested and faced nine charges, including assault with intent to commit murder, in what prosecutors said they believe was a gang-related, drive-by shooting. Prosecutors alleged the teen is a member of the 8 Mile Boyz.

All charges were eventually dropped on Sept. 11, 2009, due to “insufficient evidence,” according to court records. White said witnesses never showed up to testify.

City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield said she recalls the incident. Sheffield hosts “Occupy the Corner” events every other Friday in Detroit neighborhoods, aimed at reducing gun violence and bringing the community together. She said more must be done to prevent this type of tragedy.

“This story is so tragic on so many levels,” Sheffield said. “First, a young girl had her innocence and potential snuffed out by a gun-toting child. …Violence begets violence, thus we must all do our part to end all the forms of violence plaguing our nation.”

For White, it was an indescribable sting knowing that his daughter’s alleged shooter would never be brought to justice. But he has moved on with the help of his daughter.

“She’s grateful to be here, and she looks at me and says, ‘It’s going to be all right, Daddy,’ ” he said. “She even has love for the guy who shot her, and he took everything away from her, but he didn’t take her life.

“That’s the one thing that keeps me going: She never stops smiling. Never.”

Davis attends the Jerry L. White Center High School in Detroit and is set to graduate and receive her diploma in 2016. She plans to enroll at Wayne County Community College for courses she hopes will lead her down the path of becoming a lawyer.  “It’s always been my dream,” she said, smiling.

Friend Keifer Stephens, who has known Davis since they were in the sixth grade at Greenfield Union in Detroit, said he plans to help: He launched a fund-raiser, Dreia the Miracle, to help her achieve her dreams and provide more stability in her life.

“I thought about her all through middle school and high school,” Stephens said. “I could not forget it. And if you call someone a friend, you wouldn’t let them lay by the wayside. I was young and it was hard for me to do anything. And now that I’m out of high school, I feel I can do something about it.”

Stephens recently reached out and reconnected with Davis and White in the hopes of helping the struggling family. He said he hopes to raise money to help White move into a handicap-accessible home and for a wheelchair-lift vehicle, so Davis can have a life outside of home and school.

“The only income they have is from her Social Security,” Stephens said. “He can’t work, of course, because his only job is taking care of her… Her life was almost cut short, but she’s been given a second chance. Hopefully, people will see this and open their hearts to give.”

White admits their tiny home on the city’s west side near the Southfield Freeway is no longer large enough for the two of them. It’s hard for Davis to get around the house in her wheelchair, so she’s usually confined to her bedroom or their living room.

White laments the fact that he hasn’t been able to take her to events like the annual fireworks celebration downtown, which he thinks every teen should experience. Even simple tasks such as bathing Davis are arduous because he’s unable to get her in the bathroom.

Davis is picked up every day by a special bus that drops her off at school and back at home at the end of the day. White can’t afford to buy a car, so it’s hard for him to get around.

White also admits there have been one too many days when he has struggled to pay bills and put a hot meal on the table.  “Keifer is so selfless,” White said. “He knew my struggle without knowing my struggle. I’m funny about asking for stuff because people look down on you. But if God spoke to this young man, who am I to turn him down? There were a whole lot of times where I wanted to give up, but I have to keep going.”

For Davis, no material item can replace the love and support her father gives her.  “Thank you for all the things you do and keeping me inspired,” she told him, as she pulled him closer for a hug. “Thanks to you and the Lord, I’m here. I love you so much.”

“I love you, too,” White responded.  “See, I’m hopeful. It’s a wait-and-see thing, but she can snap out of this one day. Either way, I’m in it till the end.”

How to help: gofundme.com

article by Katrease Stafford via freep.com

 

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