Jewish emergency room doctor from St. Louis saves life in San Diego


Dr. Jeffrey Davis serves in the emergency room at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. Photo: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

There are no coincidences. That is a sentiment often associated with Judaism—everything happens for a reason. It certainly would explain how a local Jewish doctor just happened to be at the right place at the right time last month to save a life.

Dr. Jeffrey Davis was vacationing with his family in San Diego and on March 26, they went on a whale watching excursion.

“We were on a pretty small boat, and the water was rough so we were all feeling a little green,” said Davis, 46. “We were heading back into San Diego Harbor by the military base near Coronado. And that’s when we randomly happened upon another boat. There were three people on the boat and three people in the water and our captain slowed down to take a look. We pulled alongside and I noticed a kid being lifted out of the water. His leg was chopped off at the knee. You could see his femur sticking out.”

The boy’s leg had been hit by an outboard motor propeller. In the whale watching boat, Dr. Tasha Davis (Jeffrey’s wife and a pediatrician) immediately knew something was wrong.

“There was blood in the water, blood all over the side of the boat,” she said. “His femur and the upper half of his tibia looked like a skeleton. You just saw bone and tissue. And Jeffrey yells out ‘you’ve got to put a tourniquet on it!’ but nobody reacted on the other boat.”

Fortunately, Jeffrey Davis knew exactly what to do. In addition to heading up a medical practice (Link Primary Care), he is the former chief of emergency medicine at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, where he continues to work in the emergency room. He could tell the young passengers on the other boat were in shock and had no idea what to do.

“I jumped from our boat to their boat, and I pulled my belt off which is like a nylon belt with a buckle and used it as a tourniquet on his left thigh because I could see he was bleeding out onto the deck of the boat. I cranked it down as hard as I could and he looked just terrible and is a kid, probably about 19. He said, ‘Please don’t let me die’ and I said, ‘I’m an ER doctor and everything’s going to be fine. We’ve got you.’”

Meanwhile, the captain of the whale watching boat had contacted first responders and the police who arranged to meet the boat in distress at a nearby dock. When they arrived, paramedics put two actual tourniquets on the young man’s leg and rushed him to a hospital. Tasha Davis saw Jeffrey speaking to the paramedics and he gave her a thumb’s up. He subsequently learned the boy’s leg had to be amputated, but Jeffrey Davis had saved a life. Tasha described him as calm, cool and methodical. Just another day at the office.

“It’s not really a transition where I went from vacation mode to whoa, I need to be a doctor,” said Jeffrey Davis. “It’s sort of who you are, you know, I’ve been practicing medicine for 20 years. It’s what I do, which in this case meant jumping on a boat to get a tourniquet on his leg. I’ve had those some of those experiences, where I’ve been the doctor on the plane when they said, ‘Can someone come help?’ and you being the first responder at a car crash. But I’ve never had an experience where we were so close to what was going to be a bad outcome, where it was really only going to be a few seconds that was going to make a difference.”

While he is no stranger to trauma injuries, Davis said the incident marked a first for him, since St. Louis is not in an ocean environment. He acknowledged the timing in this instance was more critical than most emergencies. He said his whale watching boat must have arrived in the harbor less than a minute after the teenager sustained his injury.

“In a devastating injury like this you can lose a lot of blood,” he said. “You can lose a finger or a toe and bleed, and you’ll be fine. But if you get a proximal arterial injury like this, then you could easily bleep death in 30 seconds. I think it was a matter of truly just being in the right place at the right time.”