Santa Clara coach entering another sad season

by John Akers


The cloud that has hung over Santa Clara coach Dick Davey and his family since Jan. 24 changes only in form, never in density.

            That morning started out like so many others. Davey dropped some bagels off as his son’s home and headed to the office to make final preparations for the Bronco’s game that night at San Francisco.

            Davey was barely inside his office door when his wife, Jeanne, called. A paramedics’ truck was spotted outside the house he had lift only a half-hour or so before. By the time he could return, the truck was speeding away with the life his family once knew.

            Kathleen Davey, his 39-year-old daughter-in-law, has been in a vegetative state for the past eight months after going into cardiac arrest that morning while doing pull-ups in her garage. She was found by her 4-year-old daughter, Rachel, and second  daughter, 6-year-old Samantha, who called 9-1-1. Police were performing CPR within four minutes, and paramedics were reviving Kathleen’s heart four or five minutes after that. Yet Kathleen was given less than 10-percent chance to survive the trip to the hospital, less than 2-percent to make it through the night.

            By the time Davey returned that evening from the San Francisco game – which he attended in body only, not in spirit, after being convinced by his son, mike, that Kathleen would have it no other way – last rites were performed on her. Today, Kathleen sees and hears but isn’t believed to be able to process any thoughts. Her doctors’ prognosis offers little hope for a meaningful recovery.

            “Unless there’s some kind of major recovery, I don’t think any of this ever leaves you with a day that you’re not discouraged for the family,” Davey says. “The idea now is that this has happened. How do we fight out way through it? You can’t give up on that part of it. She’s worth fighting for and worth staying involved with and we love her and want to see something positive happen. You keep trying every day. Ever day I go in, I’m hoping for something.

            “The difference is, the first month or so, approximately, I’d wake up after an hour or so and think it was a dream. You’d sleep three or four hours and wake up. Sleep an hour and wake up. You couldn’t get it out of your mind. It wouldn’t go away. And then it got to the point where you could sleep through the night, which I can do now, but my wife’s still having trouble with that.”

            When Davey says this should never have happened, he isn’t just stating the obvious. This mother of two – still known by her childhood nickname or “Bean” – is an attractive, brilliant, shy woman who was the manager of a Bay Area law firm. She is his son’s wife and soul mate. Of course, it shouldn’t have happened.

            She is also a 5-foot-4, 117-pound fitness freak who could do an impressive nine pull-ups. Her accident never should have happened, the Davey family believes, because it was preventable.

            According to a website that serves as a diary or Kathleen’s progress (, Kathleen had experienced chest pains in the months prior to the cardiac arrest. In mid-December, she had collapsed and lost consciousness for nearly two minutes while doing pull-ups. She had sought medical opinions on three or four different occasions, it says, but was told she was in “Olympic shape” and given a clean bill of health.

            Weeks later, bad things were happening to good people.

            Dick Davey is one of the best. I covered his Santa Clara teams during the Steve Nash heyday, back when the Broncos were knocking off Arizona and Maryland in NCAA Tournaments and the defending NCAA champion UCLA Bruins at a Maui Invitational. Even then, my newspaper, The San Jose Mercury News, struggled with where to play this little school that was beating the big boys, and the Broncos often got the short-shrift at a time when Jason Kidd was playing at California and Stanford was emerging as a power in a pro market that wasn’t yet sold on college basketball. I often felt like apologizing to Davey for the way things were, but he would have none of it. He is the rare coach who truly enjoys having reporters around, but more for the camaraderie than the words they might write about him or his team.

            Santa Clara’s family atmosphere suits Davey. There are other mom-and-pop outfits out there – Saint Joseph’s, Gonzaga, Penn – but none of them has created a chain of loyalty quite like SCU. For more than four decades, Santa Clara has had only four coaches, replacing each head coach by promoting an assistant on staff. When Bob Feerick left SCU to coach the San Francisco Warriors in 1962, assistant coach Dick Garibaldi replaced him. Garibaldi couched the Broncos to as high as No. 2 nationally during the 1968-1969 season and handed the job to his assistant for 15 seasons before replacing Williams in 1992.

            It isn’t surprising, then, that an auction at Santa Clara and a fundraiser at Saratoga High School, where Mike is a social-studies teacher and the boys’ basketball coach, raised about $400,000, more than enough to pay for Kathleen’s initial medical expenses. The law firm where Kathleen worked has set up a trusted fund for the two children. There is hope that insurance money will help with the cost of a wheelchair-accessible van and with the remodeling of their home to accommodate Kathleen’s return.

            The family believes their next avenue of hope might come from stem-cell research and is hoping for the election of John Kerry, who has pledged to overturn G. W. Bush’s ban on federal funding of research of new stem cell lines. If Bush is re-elected, Davey said the family might look for help in another country.

            Though Davey isn’t asking for more money – “Everyone has their own perils,” he says – the need will surely persist. Donations can be sent to: Davey Family Fund; c/o Saratoga High School; 20300 Herriman Ave.; Saratoga CA 95070.

            More importantly, there is the need for knowledge that can re-connect Kathleen to her mind. Mike Davey has sent hundreds of letters in search of an answer to this puzzle, and at least one doctor has acknowledged that he knows more about neurology than most in the medical profession. The family gets calls and e-mails from all over the world. Vic Couch, an ex-Bronco who is an assistant coach at Minnesota, visited the university hospital there and talked to a neurologist who urged Mike to call him. Out of the blue one day, even renegade Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis called Dick Davey to tell him how proud he was for Mike for continuing the fight for his wife.

            “He was great,” Davey says of Davis. “after all of the things you hear about AL Davis, I surely have a different impression of him now.”
            Dick Davey still drops by to see his daughter-in-law on most mornings, as he did on Jan. 24. These days , of course, he isn’t just dropping off bagels. On this particular morning, he visited her at a care center from 7:30 to 10. The previous evening, from 9-11, a friend of family member has been to Kathleen’s side during shifts over a 16-hour period- from 8 a.m. to midnight- every day of the past eight months, a stretch covering nearly 4,000 hours. The only lapse of about 20 minutes, caused by a volunteer’s family emergency, happened to coincide with a rare moment when Kathleen required medical attention that she did not immediately receive. Aside from an eight-day vacation, Davey figures that he has visited Kathleen for all but six days, despite taking recruiting trips in July to Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.

            Some mornings, Davey believes he sees a flash of recognition that is reserved mostly for when Kathleen hears the voice of her husband or daughters. Then the coach will apply a nerve stimulator to the six specific areas of his daughter-in-law’s body that require attention, all the while hoping for the miracle that has not come.

            “This has been a real education,” Davey says, “that I wish I didn’t have.”