FORT MYERS, Fla. — Carsyn Leigh Davis was medically fragile.
The Florida teen, whose “complex medical history” included hypothalamic-pituitary axis dysfunction, bronchial asthma, morbid obesity and a rare autoimmune disorder, died the afternoon of June 23 from complications of COVID-19 pneumonia.
After her death, family and friends poured out their hearts in touching tributes to the teen, who they said smiled through every challenge life threw at her, including a bout of cancer as a young child and the death of her father when she was 10.
“She survived it all, never complaining and never focusing on herself,” her mother, Carole Brunton Davis, wrote in a statement on a GoFundMe page set up by a family friend. “Even through the ravages of COVID, fighting to breathe, she never once shed a tear, complained or expressed fear.”
A recently released medical examiner’s report has raised serious questions, however, about how Davis contracted the coronavirus and how she was treated for the illness at home.
The circumstances of Davis’ death were first reported Sunday by Rebekah Jones, the former Florida Department of Health data scientist who claims she was fired for refusing to manipulate the state’s COVID-19 data. According to NPR, Jones has since established her own coronavirus dashboard.
Jones tweeted images earlier this week that she claimed were social media posts written by Brunton Davis, in which the mother appears to be against the use of face masks to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The images could not be verified because Brunton Davis’ profile appears to have been deleted.
There also appears to be no evidence to support Jones’ claim that Brunton Davis purposely exposed her daughter to the virus. Church officials have also railed against characterizations of the event as a “COVID party.”
According to the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department, Davis died 13 days after attending a large church function that included about 100 other children.
“She did not wear a mask. Social distancing was not followed,” reads the report from the medical examiner.
Her mother and stepfather, a nurse and a physician’s assistant, began treating her prophylactically with the antibiotic azithromycin, which has been touted as a possible treatment for those who contract the virus.
Within three days, Davis had a headache, cough and sinus pressure. Initially, her parents thought she had a sinus infection, the medical examiner’s report states.
“On June 19, the mother noted she looked ‘gray’ while sleeping. She tested (Davis') O2 saturation and it was in the 40s,” according to the document.
Brunton Davis borrowed an oxygen tank from the girl’s grandfather, who has COPD. Davis’ oxygen saturation rose to the 60s, which is still dangerously low.
“The parents gave her a dose of hydroxychloroquine,” the report says.
The anti-malaria drug, which was praised early in the pandemic by President Trump, has since been debunked as an effective treatment for COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration has warned that the medication, typically used by people with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, could produce deadly heart problems in some people.
The FDA withdrew its emergency use authorization for the drug on June 15. It is unclear if Davis or anyone in her family had a prescription for the hydroxychloroquine she was given four days later, the Post reported.
That same day, June 19, Davis’ parents took her to Gulf Coast Medical Center, from which she was taken to Golisano Hospital and admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit, the medical examiner’s report states.
At Golisano, she tested positive for COVID-19.
Davis’ bloodwork also showed that she had “significantly elevated” LFTs, or liver enzymes. Elevated liver enzymes are an indication that a patient’s liver is not functioning properly.
The medical examiner’s report shows that Davis’ parents initially declined to have her intubated to help her breathing. The teen was given convalescent plasma therapy, or transfusions of blood plasma from people who have contracted the coronavirus and survived, on June 20 and 21.
Read the report from the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department below.
By June 22, doctors had no choice but to put Davis on a respirator, the report says.
Her cardiorespiratory status continued to decline, with her oxygen level remaining in the low 70s, according to the document.
“The mother requested heroic efforts despite knowing she had low chance of meaningful survival,” the report states.
Doctors transferred Davis once again, this time to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. There, she was put on a ECMO machine. The ECMO, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, pumps a patient’s blood out of the body, oxygenates it and sends it back in.
The short-term life support, in effect, does the work of a person’s heart and lungs, allowing those organs to rest.
Despite the support, Davis’ condition continued to deteriorate, the medical examiner’s report states. She required higher and higher doses of medications to increase blood circulation and raise her blood pressure.
Chest X-rays showed severe infiltrates in both lungs and subcutaneous emphysema, or air moving just underneath the skin.
“She developed worsening distributive shock and multiorgan failure,” the report states. “She was to undergo dialysis and plasmapheresis; however, due to rapid deterioration and inability to bring up oxygen saturation, these interventions were unable to be performed.”
Testing showed Davis had no cardiac function of her own, and her pupils were fixed and dilated. She was pronounced dead at 1:06 p.m. June 23.
Davis died two days after her 17th birthday.
“We are incredibly saddened by her passing at this young age, but are comforted that she is pain-free,” Brunton Davis said in the family’s statement. “Heaven gained an angel.”
Buzzfeed News reported that many of the details in the medical examiner’s report were corroborated by social media post from family members and the family’s church, the First Assembly of God in Fort Myers. The posts have been deleted as Davis’ case has gained widespread attention.
Buzzfeed preserved some of the posts.
In a June 10 post on the now-deleted Facebook page of First Youth Church, First Assembly of God’s youth ministry, a church official wrote that “service is back and better than ever.”
The event Davis attended that night was called a “release party,” which the church promoted throughout the weeks before the gathering.
“There will be games, awesome giveaways, free food, a DJ and music, and the start of our new sermon series,” the post read.
Touting karaoke and basketball being held at the event, the post read, “We hope to see you there!”
The Fort Myers News-Press reported that Davis was very active in the church’s youth ministry.
“With wisdom and prayer, we have made the decision to shut down Youth Church for the next 14 days,” Zarick’s post read. “This is a proactive decision to keep you safe, which is our highest priority.
“I know this is discouraging news to hear, but God is still moving and working through all of this. He ALWAYS wins!”
First Assembly of God, which has also deleted its Facebook page, announced on its website June 25, two days after Davis died, that Youth Church had come up with a safety strategy to allow its members to meet again. The guidelines included sanitizing doors and chairs, which would be set up six feet apart, and temperature checks as members arrive.
“We will strictly observe these guidelines, and attendance at Youth Church is an indication that each student will observe them,” the announcement read. “Of course, we encourage anyone who is not feeling well, or has a sick family member, to remain home.”
On Tuesday, the church responded on its site and its Instagram page to the attention brought to the party Davis attended before becoming ill.
“Over the past 24 hours, First Assembly of God of Fort Myers has been accused of hosting ‘COVID-19 parties.’ Nothing could be farther from the truth,” the statement read. “First Assembly of God of Fort Myers is following all of the health protections and protocols recommended by the state and local government with regard to holding its church services.
“Let us be clear – media reports and postings accusing the church of ignoring protocols or actively engaging in behavior intended to expose our congregation to the virus are absolutely false and defamatory.”
The church’s statement described the “innuendo” about Davis’ care as false and “based upon irresponsible speculation and inaccurate information.”
“Because those false reports have been picked up, perpetuated and posted throughout national, local and social media, the church has been subject to a relentless attack and finds itself forced to make this statement in an effort to get the truth out,” the statement read.
Church officials described Davis’ death as “heartbreaking” and said they and many members of the Youth Church reached out to the teen and her family as she fought her illness, sending video messages and encouragement.
“Out of respect for her family, and at their request, the church did not comment to the media about her illness and her passing,” the statement read. “The church intends to continue to honor that request. Our sympathies go out to her entire family during this tragic period of their lives.”
The Youth Church posted a photo of Davis on its Instagram account the day she died, in which officials described her as “so sweet, full of joy, and loved to give gifts.”
“She loved Jesus with all her heart and loved to be in his church,” the post continued. “Carsyn will be so missed, but we know she is in the arms of her Heavenly Father.”
The post was later deleted, but was preserved by Buzzfeed News.
A Facebook page set up for family and friends to post photos and memories of Davis has also been deleted.
Brunton Davis described her daughter as a “God warrior, mentor, advisor, advocate, helper and friend to all who knew her. She regularly stood up for those who could not fight for themselves.”
Davis served as an aide in the special needs classroom at her school, Cypress Lake High School in Fort Myers. She was also a volunteer for Special Olympics and the Be a Buddy program.
The teen was a member of the school’s bowling team, as well as the choir. The Cypress Lake orchestra announced her death on its Facebook page June 23.
“We are heartbroken for the loss of a young lady who brought so much light into the world,” the post read.
At Christmas time, Davis volunteered with the Angel Tree ministry, helping children of incarcerated parents receive gifts, and she participated in Operation Christmas Child through Samaritan’s Purse, her mother wrote on the GoFundMe page.
“Though she never wanted anything for herself, she was always making or buying gifts for others,” Brunton Davis wrote. “Carsyn deeply loved her family; her sisters and brother, grandparents, mom and stepdad. She was always concerned about everyone else’s well-being and happiness.
“We will truly miss her, but look forward to seeing her in heaven.”
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