Santina Davies is in the business of rehabilitation. Her own physical rehabilitation has been her full-time occupation for six years.
Following a successful climb on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Davies slipped off Table Mountain in Capetown, South Africa, which she hiked only to take in the view. She fell 125 feet and had to be airlifted to a hospital. When she awoke 15 hours and multiple surgeries later, she was told she would never walk again.
Last week, she walked slowly and tentatively in high heels, but on her own, to the stage at the Port Theater in Corona del Mar, where she shared her story to Friendship Shelter residents and supporters on behalf of the organization’s 25th anniversary. Her appearance is a natural book-end to her first public appearance two years after the accident at the agency’s annual gala, where she received an honorary award for her spirit and tenacity.
“I still have challenges and pain,” she told a rapt crowd, “but I learned that working hard every day I need to build on each small success.”
Her message must have resonated with homeless individuals who have only small steps to take and must take each small step before they can rehabilitate their own lives. She shared the stage that night with her friend and Friendship Shelter supporter Paola Porrini-Bisson, who recently produced her first film about mountain climbers, which won the Tribeca Film Festival’s award for best short film, and Jim Doti, president of Chapman University, an avid mountain climber. Climbing mountains is an apt metaphor for homeless people trying to rebuild lives.
Davies has devoted most of her days, every day for six years to physical therapy. The task was Herculean. She had disconnected both wrists, punctured a lung, and fractured her back and spinal chord. But, she said, the moment the doctors said she would not walk again, she was determined to do just that.
Determination comes naturally to Davies. The youngest of nine children, she migrated from Italy to the U.S. at age 13 and was the first to learn to speak English, so she became the family spokesperson for her first five years here. She is a strong-minded woman who has traveled extensively and enjoyed the good life with her husband in Laguna Beach. Thus, when she became suddenly dependent on others, she wanted more than anything to do something for herself. Any small thing, she said.
“At times I wanted to give up, but something inside of me wanted to try again, and try harder. I started choosing to believe that if I can do one thing, I can do more.”
The one thing Davies always had was hope. Hope, and a dedicated support system of family and friends. This is often exactly what homeless people do not have, so a person like Davies, who has been a generous supporter, reminds them that they can do whatever they set their mind to. She also advised them to listen to their counselors.
“Only worry about what you can do today,” Davies said in conclusion, words she will likely be whispering to herself these days. She confided to the group that she has just been diagnosed with cancer. Knowing Davies, she will wage that battle with the same determination and hope. We are all rooting for her.
Randy Kraft is a freelance writer who previously covered the city for the Indy and pens the OC BookBlog for www.ocinsite.com. Minding our Business focuses on locally owned businesses and business people.