DELPHOS — Air Force veteran Justin Davis, of Delphos, found inspiration to help others thanks to a rare heart disease diagnosis.
Davis started a charity in 2014, Rock for the Heart, to raise money for heart disease research and reach out to the families of affected individuals.
A heart-stopping scenario
Davis served in the United States Air Force from 2008 to 2012. While serving in the military, he developed chest pains and the military doctors put him on anti-anxiety medication. However, the chest pains continued after he returned from Iraq. Eventually he was medically discharged from the Air Force after they diagnosed him with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
“They kept pushing anxiety pills down my throat saying, ‘You’re too young for anything,’” he said.
The chest pain persisted after Davis was discharged, but still his primary physician and VA doctors put him on anti-anxiety medication, attributing the pain to panic attacks and anxiety.
“It wasn’t until a few years later when I was up in Maryland attending college that I collapsed outside of an elevator,” Davis said. “I was pretty well on my deathbed. I couldn’t breathe. Chest pain was crazy, shooting down my arm, throughout my jaw and down my back.”
One of his professors found him and called an ambulance. The ambulance team thought he was just having a panic attack. When doctors were examining him in the hospital there were no indications he was having a heart attack, he said.
“They went in and did a heart [catheterization] on me and then rushed me for an emergency quadruple bypass,” Davis said. “I was moments away from the big end there.”
He went through doctor after doctor with no one determining what was wrong with him. His mother saw a girl on “Good Morning America” who had a similar story to his. They contacted a doctor in New York who put him into a national case study through the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The doctors have no name for Davis’ disease. He is the only person in the world, that the doctors know of, with this condition, Davis said. He has had a 10-hour quadruple bypass surgery as well as 20 stints placed in the past three years. His mother, Shirley, said he’s in and out of the hospital every eight weeks or so.
Good for the heart
“But doing Rock for the Heart makes it all worthwhile,” Davis said. “Being able to turn my negative into a positive and helping the community. Being able to understand other people’s situations and provide them with what they need the most, which is a strong support system. Being able to bridge that gap and fill that void, to me, is a great privilege.”
Rock for the Heart has two functions. The charity puts on different fundraising events, the proceeds from which go to the NIH for heart disease research. The other function is the creation and distribution of care packages, paid for through donations, to families with a loved one in the hospital for heart problems.
Gene “Groamy” Frueh, owner of Lima’s Groamy’s CD’s and Tapes, met Davis five years ago when Davis was living in Dayton.
“He wanted me to be his Lima connection for Rock for the Heart events,” Frueh said.
Davis is a singer and guitar player, and many of the charity fundraising events are connected to music. One of the earlier events was a battle of the bands.
Austin Morris, a friend of Davis’ and a volunteer who helps with event planning, met Davis three years ago in the music scene. At that time, Davis was passionate about starting Rock for the Heart, but he didn’t really know how to begin. He and Morris started planning a few early events and paid for the care packages out of their own pockets.
“This year is when we saw the potential of what we could do,” Morris said. “Our goal was to hand out 20 care packages this year. I think we’ll have done about 100 of them after visiting Dayton Children’s Hospital next week.”
Last week was Morris’ first time delivering care packages to families at Mercy Health St. Rita’s.
“It was a pretty humbling experience all in all,” he said. “I think it mattered to them more knowing someone cared than what was in the package.”
Davis and Morris have some big plans for Rock for the Heart in 2018. They are organizing a silent auction with local Lima businesses and would like to get businesses to donate services and merchandise for the auction, Morris said. They have also set a funding goal of $5,000 to increase the number of care packages they can make and hand out next year.
“He’s a strong young man,” Shirley Davis said. “He hates being in the public eye. He wants everyone to understand this is his way of giving back to people going through what he did and their families.”
Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362