Faith brought beloved principal back from coma, and back to Heritage Elementary

Dr. Davenport enjoys visiting a kindergarten classroom at Heritage Elementary and interacting with students.

Last fall, as other administrators were busy settling into the new school year, Heritage Principal, Dr. Lydia Davenport was fighting for her life.

A rare blood disorder known as Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) caused her to have a collapsed lung and the shut down of all the organs in her body.  In an attempt to save her life, the doctors had no choice but to induce a coma.

Before submcoming to the comma, Davenport remembers opening her eyes and saying, “Jesus Help Me”.

“I don’t remember a lot after that, but I do know while I had discomfort, God never let me suffer,” Davenport said. “The most difficult part was coming off the ventilator, but even then, I didn’t suffer.  I never questioned God about why this was happening to me, and even to this day, I haven’t. I just know it was my faith that got me through this.”

After spending three months in the hospital, Davenport was allowed to go home. After that, she had to spend five to six hours a day, four days a week, visiting doctors and receiving plasma.

After 17 blood transfusions, over 10, 000 pints of plasma, 10 specialists, more than 75 nurses, and too many doctors to count, Davenport was finally able to return to her position as principal of Heritage Elementary, but not without preparation.

Priding herself on knowing the names and faces of almost 700 students, one of her fears was not knowing new students and last year’s kindergarteners.

While other people might have spent their recovery time watching television, Davenport spent her time studying yearbooks and pictures of students sent to her by teachers at her request.

“I was afraid I would return and not know my students, and I couldn’t let that happen,” Davenport said.

Last spring, she returned for a two-day “practice visit.”  Because her immune system was still weak, she was very susceptible to infections, but she didn’t let that stop her from interacting with the students. Davenport donned her face mask and took to the halls and classrooms.

“I knew the students would want to hug me and that they would need that physical contact to be sure I was okay, so the acting principal, Dr. Robbie Smith, encouraged the students to ‘arm bump’ me,” Davenport said. “I was so happy to have smiling, laughing children around me, all wanting to bump elbows with me.”

Parents, students, and staff members were overjoyed with her return.

Davenport shared a story about a boy who had come to the school over the summer and discovered her sitting at her desk.  After hugging her, he ran outside, and she could hear him yelling, “She’s here.  She’s really here.  Come quick.  I saw her.  She is really in there!”

“I really missed the children and their hugs and laugher,” Davenport said about her time away. “While I was in the hospital they sent me CDs they had created of my favorite music, videos they had made of themselves, cards, pictures and other items – more than 2,500 items — and I still have every one of them.  Sometimes when I need extra strength, I pull them out and look at them.”

While Davenport might not have been strong enough to return to Heritage until the 2011-2012 school year, as an avid child and education advocate, she spent the spring and summer writing articles, making phone calls, sending e-mails, and organizing other events from home to help children across the nation during the short one to three hours she was allowed up each day.

In June, as a member of the National Leader’s Conference, she traveled to Washington D.C. and met with Congress about the re-authorization of NCLB.

As a National Distinguished Principal of the Year, she will travel to D.C. again in October and share her views regarding education, a trip she had to miss last year due to her illness.

Just like the little boy who was excited to see Dr. Davenport return, many people throughout the area are feeling that same sense of excitement at the start of the 2011-2012 school year.  Dr. Davenport is here!  She is really here!  She is really in there, where she belongs, inside Heritage school!

By Molly King