“So shines a good deed in a weary world.”
Carmel Valley parents Rob and Leah Davis have started a movement of kindness in honor of their son Blake who died of a rare heart and lung condition at the age of two on Jan. 2, 2019. During their darkest times, the family has found light and love through spreading a message of positivity and hope.
#ForBlake has inspired acts of charity and goodwill, everything from cookies for firefighters to beach clean-ups, cups of coffee and simple smiles between strangers. Dog toys have been donated to Helen Woodward Animal Center for Blake, another person put money toward rescue backpacks to help animals in the Australian wildfires, another man chose to volunteer every week in Blake’s name to help the homeless in downtown San Diego.
In Portland, a woman bought 21 copies of a children’s book and put them in Little Free Libraries around the city with Blake’s message inside. “The communities in Portland will feel Blake in their hearts when they snuggle up and read together,” wrote Victoria Preisler.
“It’s amazing that something this beautiful and powerful stemmed from our little boy,” Leah said. “We’ve had people tell us the world needs this right now and that people want a reason to do some good.”
Since the movement started in 2017 when Blake first got sick, the good deeds carry on. To see the wave of positivity out in the world helps to keep their son’s memory alive and helps to heal their grieving hearts.
Just passing one year without him, the tears fall easily for Rob and Leah when they remember their little boy.
“He had one of the most radiant, beautiful spirits and he had an unforgettable laugh,” Leah said.
“He was a little troublemaker from the beginning,” Rob added with a smile.
The family started calling him “Zilla” for his Godzilla-like propensity to creep up and playfully knock over his big sister Scarlett’s Lego creations. When Scarlett couldn’t yet say Blake, she called him “Bock” which evolved to “Bockzilla” and “Bockies”; the blue-eyed, blonde, happy little guy was also lovingly called “Blakie.”
“He was very social and personable,” said Leah, noting that while in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) at Rady Children’s Hospital, he always wanted to keep the door open so he could see everything going on, to wave to passersby and greet the nurses on shift change. “We joked he was the mayor of the CVICU.”
“Throughout this journey we also learned that he was a determined kid,” Leah said.
As Rob said, he wasn’t fazed at all by everything he had to endure, he kept fighting and he never lost the “beautiful child essence of him.”
“We were blessed with Blake because he never lost his inner light, it always shined,” Leah said. “His light was so bright.”
The Davis’ lives forever changed in an instant on July 4, 2017.
Blake was a seemingly healthy 14 month-old and there was no indication that day that anything was wrong. The family was playing at Del Mar Trails Park ahead of a family barbecue and fireworks later that evening.
As they were leaving the park, Leah was putting Blake in his car seat and he was acting like a normal toddler that was not yet ready to go home, thrusting his hips forward as she snapped him in. Rob was across the back seat with Scarlett and didn’t think much of Blake’s actions but then he saw him put his head down, and it lolled to the side.
“It struck me as odd. I looked at him for an extra second and I asked Leah, ‘Is he breathing?’” Rob asked.
Seeing that he was not breathing, a terrified Leah frantically got Blake out of his car seat and Rob watched in horror as he turned blue in her arms. A park that seemed to have been full of activity just moments before was now empty and they felt totally alone in a time of desperation. Rob saw that a nearby house had their garage door open and he banged on their door as he called 911.
“We were screaming for help and we rushed into their house,” said Leah.
As the neighbors assisted them, San Diego Fire Station 24 arrived within minutes. The first responders were able to stabilize him in the ambulance on the way to Scripps Memorial La Jolla.
From there, they took the Children’s Hospital Emergency Transport to Rady and Blake was admitted to the respiratory unit. On July 5, Blake had another crisis and every day spent in the hospital, the family received increasingly bad news.
“Each of the four days was worse than the one before it,” Leah said. The doctors suspected pulmonary hypertension—he had high blood pressure in the arteries to his lungs and the right side of his heart was working harder than his left. His condition was extremely rare and they believed he had it since birth.
After suffering another major crisis, Blake was moved from the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit to CVICU and as he was too medically fragile, he was put on a life support ECMO heart-lung bypass machine, where all of his blood was oxygenated outside of his body. He was on ECMO for seven days and intubated for 30 days. “July 8 was the last time we saw him awake for a month,” Rob said.
The family would spend the next three months living under the Rady’s roof.
When Blake was on life support, everyone started asking Leah and Rob what they could do to help.
They had declined a stay at the Ronald McDonald House as they lived locally, making sure there was room for another family that needed it. Scarlett was being taken care of by family and there was not much that they really needed. Their social worker told them: “People want to help you—give them something to do.”
“We were a mess obviously and our one hope was to just raise the positive energy that was surrounding him. Bringing light and love to him was what we wanted to do,” Leah said. “We didn’t need anything and we were all helpless so we just said ‘go out and do something good for somebody else and do it honor of Blake.’”
The Davis’ started a For Blake Facebook page, asking only for positive vibes and good deeds. Almost instantly, people started posting stories of their acts of kindness: buying coffee for the person behind them in line at Starbucks, carrying a stranger’s groceries, chopping off a ponytail for Locks of Love, painting rocks to help brighten someone’s day. Inspired by Blake, people were more aware and actively looking for ways to help others, even in the smallest ways.
“Each night I just held his hand and told him what an incredible impact he was making on the world,” Leah said. As Rob and Leah would tell him all the things that their friends, family and even strangers were doing in his name, nurses would stop to listen, sometimes moved to tears.
Around the same time, Scarlett had caught a little baby lizard that had been evading capture in her grandparents’ house for a week. The lizard become a symbol of the For Blake movement—the lizard is a survivor and if caught in battle, is able to regrow its own tail. It represented regeneration and renewal, two things that Blake really needed for his lungs. Plastic lizards began popping everywhere in the CVICU and photos of lizard sightings became mixed with good acts on the Facebook page.
After three months, Blake had regained some strength and was able to go home. The next year and a half was a new reality for the family—they learned to manage his care with an oxygen machine and 24-hour infusions. He remained medically fragile and it was at times terrifying trying to keep a two-year old calm and avoid having a crisis. He would be hospitalized in the CVICU two more times and the amazing people there would become an extension of the Davis family.
It was a stressful time but as Rob said, “Life was good” and the acts of kindness kept rolling in.
On Dec. 9, 2018, Leah was recovering from a hip replacement surgery while the kids were playing in the living room with their dad. Around 8 a.m., Scarlett ran into her bedroom and said “Blake stopped breathing.”
Rob called 911 and started rescue breathing. The team from Station 24 responded to the call and paramedic Carolyn Gates, who had helped revive Blake in July, was the first person that Leah saw. “It’s Blake,” Leah tearfully told Gates. Gates responded: “We got him, Leah.”
In that scary moment, Leah felt a true feeling of community, she felt enveloped by the village of people that had been caring for them.
Blake was stabilized and back in CVICU for observation for a week but his condition had greatly worsened. As they had outgrown the medical therapies that Rady could provide, they were medically flown to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston for a lung transplant evaluation.
Texas Children’s is the largest freestanding pediatric hospital in the country and it was so gigantic that Rob said it felt like a small city. It was overwhelming and being away from home indefinitely, at times they felt like they were on a different continent.
“Everyone was in disbelief that he looked as good as he did and was as sick as he was,” Rob said of Blake, still smiling and playing with toys in his hospital room.
The Davis’ were at Texas Children’s through Christmas and New Year’s and Blake’s heart function was declining rapidly. On Jan. 2, the hospital board cleared him for a lung transplant but he would need an emergency intervention prior to the transplant and all involved risk and uncertainty.
As they weighed their options for the next morning, a very peaceful and calm Blake told his parents “My chest hurts.” Leah pressed the emergency button and the medical team and family members gathered as he crashed. After 45 minutes of chest compressions, this was the one crisis that Blake did not come back from.
“Someone once told me you can do everything in your power to try to save him but ultimately his spirit would decide when it is time,” Leah said. “We had no idea what his fate would be with any of the procedures and I will always feel like his spirit decided to go in that moment so we didn’t have to make that decision.”
The next day, Leah posted on the For Blake page that Blake had gotten his angel’s wings and it was like everybody doubled down—the good deeds piled up.
“There was so much love and support and good things done for Blake,” Leah said. “It was amazing because that was the worst part of our lives, the darkest time of our lives, and we were able to see the light. We saw all of the love and compassion that people have and that helped pull us through.”
“We saw the beauty of humanity,” Rob said. “We could so easily be caught up in being the victim and being angry….we were able to see that there are good people in the world.”
To mark the anniversary of one year without Blake, they launched a new ForBlake.org website, allowing people to share their good deeds. The site features a Good Deed Tracker, which shows how the kindness in Blake’s name has rippled across 22 states. The site also has printable kindness cards that tell Blake’s story and will hopefully allow recipients of good deeds to pay it forward.
“Don’t feel like you’re asking for praise, it can be anonymous,” Rob said. “Still share and do it for us to keep Blake’s legacy alive.”
It remains inspiring and uplifting for them to scroll through the stories of kind acts performed by people remembering their son.
One family in Florida started a happiness jar last January, filling it with slips of paper of things that made them feel loved throughout the year. On Jan. 2 this year, the anniversary of Blake’s passing, the family read each slip and laughed, smiled, hugged and cried.
“I thanked Blake for helping us all to see the power of kindness and positivity,” wrote Stephanie Bylund. “This was truly a gift of kindness and love for my family, and we decided we will fill the jar again.”
The Davis family does good deeds of their own. On Thanksgiving, they brought pies to Station 24 and the CVICU at Rady and it warms Rob’s heart to see Scarlett performing small acts of kindness whenever she can, such as drawing a picture for a kid in her preschool class who needed a boost. Leah now serves on the Cardiac Family Advisory Council at Rady—after the hospital treated her like family, she feels strongly about giving back and about trying to help the many families who live in hospitals every day, an experience she knows all too well.
“Our hearts remain irreparably broken and our spirits forever wounded. There is no changing this story, and most days it’s incredibly hard to accept,” Leah wrote on the For Blake page. “Each day, we can just try to do our best. Some days that’s not easy. On others, we push ourselves to intentionally create new positive memories and enjoy our time together.”
When life is particularly hard, Leah said it can be difficult to focus on gratitude however they remain grateful for their family, their community, the kindness of strangers and always for Blake, that he chose them to be his parents.
“Early on we wanted him to live a long time but we also knew his life was more than likely going to be cut short,” Rob said. “(The For Blake movement) is a way that he stays alive.”
“For such a short life, he has made an impact on so many people,” Leah said.