WEST COVINA, California -- Last March 3d marked a year since former NASCAR West Series driver St James Davis, and his wife La Donna, were brutally attacked by chimpanzees while visiting an animal sanctuary near Bakersfield, California.
The Davises were visiting the Animal Haven Ranch, a sanctuary for retired zoo animals, in Caliente to celebrate Moe the Chimpanzee's 39th birthday. The couple adopted Moe at birth and he quickly became the son they never had.
While the West Covina, California racing couple enjoyed a lifetime of happiness with Moe, it went bad in 1999 when the chimp bit a woman's finertip off during a visit to the Davis home. Part of the settlement of this carse included Moe being placed in the animal sanctuary.
The Davises continued to make regular visits to see Moe and that's what placed them at the sanctuary on that fateful morning. Somewhere around 1130am four chimpanzees escaped from their cages. Two of them attacked the Davises. The attack on ST James Davis lasted approximately five minutes before officials could secure the scene. One of the attacking chimps was shot and killed. Further investigation later detemined that a door to the chimp compound had been left unlocked. It was quickly pointed out that Moe remained in his cage stunned and had nothing to do with the incident.
St James Davis was airlifted to Loma Linda Hospital for massive injuries to his face, hands and foot. La Donna Davis was treated for animal bites including the loss of a thumb on her left hand.
St James Davis literally spent months in a doctor induced coma while plans were made for a series of experimental plastic surgeries. These procedures include fashioning a new nose to replace the one he lost in the attack, an artificial eye socket to hold a glass eye as well as prodecures on his hands and left foot. He has endured, to date, 32 surgical procedures and has approximately 20 more procedures in the future.
Last summer, doctors felt that Davis' recovery process would be enhanced if he returned to the comfort of his own home. On the day of his return the Davis' front yard was filled with media and well wishers. La Donna said, at the time, I'm thankful that God and this hospital allowed ST James to come to me again. We are not finished with out life together and our affection for each other."
Late last year the couple appeared on the nationally syndicated "Maury Povich" television talk show and, for the first time ever, described the events on the morning of March 3d. That interview was re aired on March 6th.
On the program the majority of ST James Davis' face was concealed by a surgical mask which he wears whenever he leaves his home. He has a geniune concern over frightening small children because of his facial injuries. During the interview he eventually did remove the mask and displayed the extent of his injuries and the progress being made by the surgical procedures.
During the course of the Maury Povich interview, the Davises' said they were sitting at a table approximately two feet away from Moe's cage. La Donna recalled that it was a very quiet day at the animal sanctuary and, while in the process of cutting a piece of birthday cake, a stirring sound coming from behind her caught her attention. She recalled seeing some movement out of the corner of her eye and, seconds later, she was struck from behind by a male chimp.
"I first heard a noise because it was so quiet and when I looked around to see what it was, I said boy, this isn't good. I put my hands up at first to defend myself and he took my thumb. The next thing I know I've got this hand pushing me," La Donna recalled.
The hand pushing her belonged to her husband. Taking up the story, ST James said "I was trying to push her under the table and push him back at the same time. I could hear her crying from underneath the table. The fight with the chimpanzees were, I don't know, five or ten minutes. I kept trying to shove them back while yelling no, stop, quit, sit down. He'd bite a finger and then pull it off, he'd bite another finger and then pull that one off. Another kept kicking me and I kept trying to push them back. My arms could only reach to about their elbows because their arms are about a foot and a half longer than ours."
Looking at his wife, with a great deal of affection, Davis said "I just wished I could have saved her thumb." La Donna replied saying "he always tells me I wish I could have saved your thumb so you wouldn't have to go through anything."
Also present during the interview was Gloria Allred, famed victims rights attorney who is representing the Davises. Allred noted that it's the massive ammount of love and devotion that has allowed the Davises to endure this horrible tradegy and further stated "I just want to say that he's a hero because he took the brunt of the attack to save his wife. She's a hero because the power of her love saved him. I think they're beautiful and they're an inspiration to me."
The fact that ST James Davis is even alive today is truly a miracle. There's no doubt, from anyone who has ever met this couple, that their undying love has gotten them this far and will see them the rest of the way at ST James prepares himself for additional surgical procedures.
All of these medical procedures are being performed without the benefit of insurance and the hospital bills are now well over a million dollars. A trust has been set up to help the couple. Donations may be sent to: Pacific Western Bank, 2oo South Vincent Avenue, West Covina, California, 91790. Please make sure your donation check is made out to the La Donna Davis Fund so the bank will know what account to place it in.