Demario and Tamela Davis, with their children (from left) Bailey-Grace, Roman-Parker and Summer-Joy, welcomed their new addition, Carly-Faith, in July 2019. Inspired by Carly-Faith’s journey with retinoblastoma, the Davis family now gives back to raise awareness and funds for the disease. Photo by April Belle Photos.

2020 Vision

New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis and his wife, Tamela, are used to splitting their time between New Orleans and their home in Nashville. But just as the Davis family was scheduled to be in New Orleans, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and stay-at-home orders required them to stay put in Nashville for a while. They are so thankful that they did.

Demario and Tamela, along with their children Bailey-Grace, Roman-Parker and Summer-Joy, had recently grown to a family of six with the addition of their youngest daughter, Carly-Faith, in July 2019. When she was just 10 months old, Carly-Faith was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a type of cancer affecting the retina.

Her parents say that no one can prepare your heart to hear that your child has cancer.

Fortunately for the Davis family, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt was right in their backyard.

“Had we been in New Orleans, the closest place for treatment would have been Houston,” Tamela said. “Thankfully, we were home in Nashville, where Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is located. This was a huge blessing and meant we could immediately see a specialist. Carly-Faith was placed under the care of one of the top research doctors and surgeons for this particular cancer, and this care team quickly became an extension of our family.”

With much discussion and prayer, the Davis family decided to move forward with surgery to remove Carly-Faith’s left eye only two days after her diagnosis. They then received the good news: Carly-Faith’s cancer was removed in time and had not spread outside of the eye or through the nerve from the eye to the brain. They were thrilled to learn that no chemotherapy would be needed.

“We know that there’s nothing more difficult for families than hearing that your child has cancer. We’ve made it our mission to ensure the best possible outcomes for families,” said Anthony Daniels, MD, MSc, assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Cancer Biology and Radiation Oncology, and Chief of the Division of Ocular Oncology and Pathology at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute. “Through collaboration across teams, we are able to offer the full spectrum of cutting-edge treatments for retinoblastoma, and we can create a tailored treatment plan based on the specific needs of each individual patient. Because of support from those like the Davis family, we can continue to develop newer and more effective treatments in retinoblastoma.”

Thankful for the care they received, the Davis family has made it their mission to advocate for patients with retinoblastoma and other childhood cancers.

“This cause is extremely important to our family because all of our lives have been drastically transformed forever by Carly-Faith’s diagnosis,” Tamela said. “We understand that some families’ journeys present more challenges than even we endured. That’s why we desire to be a voice to educate.”

The Davis family created their own personal fundraising page to encourage their friends, family members and networks to donate to the cause, and they even made a generous donation to kickstart the campaign and match donations dollar for dollar.

“The support and advocacy from the Davis family will make a real difference in our mission to improve the lives of children with retinoblastoma through research, clinical care and training,” said Debra Friedman, MD, who holds the E. Bronson Ingram Chair of Pediatric Oncology and is director of the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. “Support like this provides us the resources to help detect early signs of the disease and provide education to parents and family members navigating a child’s diagnosis.”

Carly-Faith continues to progress each day and has responded well to her customized prosthetic eye. She is a happy girl who rarely fusses and is always learning new things. Tamela says that even though Carly-Faith is so young, she has a fighting spirit and won’t let anything hold her down. Click here to visit their fundraising page and learn more.

– by Paige Turner

Hope – Winter 2021