March 2020 Villages-News
“My mission,” says Jack Davis, “is to have my wife longer.” Eileen Davis was diagnosed with mild, but progressive, dementia about five years ago. “She’s my best friend and we do so much together,” he added. Always the contrarian, Jack decided to fight back. He researched everything possible and instituted programs to hold back the disease. He worked with Eileen to memorise lists of words, much like a child is taught the alphabet, starting with “A is for Apple.” The mental stimulation, along with other initiatives, seems to have held off the worst effects of the disease.
Jack laments the fact that research over the past decade or so has not provided any really useful drugs for dementia or Alzheimer’s. “My belief, as a layman, is that the drugs just can’t get through the brain-blood barrier,” he says. The brain-blood barrier is a natural cell layer that prevents unknown molecules from crossing into the brain proper while allowing life-sustaining molecules to enter unimpeded. Oxygen under pressure appears to help, according to Jack’s research. He has a new oxygen generator for Eileen and is looking into the use of a hyperbaric chamber.
Eileen Davis was diagnosed with dementia several years ago. Her husband, Jack, works with her on mental exercises and other initiatives attempting to mitigate the ravages of the disease.
Jack and Eileen have never been people to just accept the status quo. Their daughter (also named Eileen – her mother calls her “Eileen Junior”) was diagnosed with deafness at 15 months. Three months later she was fitted with hearing aids. Jack says they took Baby Eileen to see Reno Millefiore at his little hearing aid place near Providence. He picked her up, walked away with her and said: “I don’t want to put a box on her chest. She won’t look like a pretty girl.” Back then, hearing aids typically consisted of a box with wires running to ear plugs. Men could keep the box in their shirt pocket. But for young Eileen, the decision was made to put them behind her ears so they wouldn’t be so noticeable.
Of course, she had other ideas. “As soon as she went outside to play, she ripped them out and threw them away,” Jack laughs. “Every day we had to go out and search the yard for them.” Working with a very patient audiologist, Eileen finally uttered her first words. When the audiologist’s pen fell out of his pocket onto the floor, Eileen said, “Oh chit.”
At the Montessori nursery school, she played with the other children, was a natural lip reader, spoke well and graduated from high school and college. Her hearing aids worked so she had no need for sign language. In her early thirties, she realised that the hearing in her left ear was completely gone. She opted for a cochlear implant. Surgery took place in New York City on Aug. 14, 2003. That afternoon, in the midst of the difficult operation, the lights went out all over the northeastern United States. “They tried to clear the hospital,” Jack recalls, but the Davis’ went back upstairs to the waiting area. “We waited and waited,” he said. “When the doctor finally came out around 7 o’clock for this supposedly two-hour operation, he was covered in sweat and you could tell he was exhausted.”
The doctor announced that despite the power failure and difficulties with the surgery, it was a success. Seeing their daughter post-surgery, she put her hands on their throats to feel the vibrations. Until the implant was connected, she was completely deaf. Eileen (Junior) now has a doctorate in audiology.
Growing up in Cranston, R.I., Jack Davis was a “non-performer.” He spent much of his time alone, rowing his eight-foot boat around the lake in front of his house. “I graduated 263rd out of a class of 265 kids,” he says. “I was pissed. Nobody did less work than me.” He claims that he was in detention for two solid years. But it wasn’t because he was stupid. In fact, Davis enjoyed math. Once, after a national geometry test, his teacher announced that the test showed classwork, homework and participation. Jack smiles, “Then she said, ‘That’s all a lie because Jack Davis got the highest mark in the room.’”
After a six-year stint with the Marines – Jack retired as a sergeant instructor – he drifted from job to job. It was the time when the emerging high-tech industry was rapidly changing. He learned to program and sold early accounting and communications systems. Eventually, Jack joined his wife in her business – she had taken over the hearing aid business from Reno Millefiore – and found his niche. “At that time, a third of the hearing aids sold were returned,” he said. “I said, ‘This is ridiculous.’”
Jack researched and developed a program that focused in on areas such as the wearers’ goals, encouraged patients to wear the hearing aid for longer periods each week, and had them read aloud every day to get used to the way their voice sounded. Wearers could also try the devices out with various recorded background noises from busy streets to birds in the forest. Returns at the Davis location dropped to less than 10 percent. “The president of the manufacturing company came to see what was going on,” Jack says. “He was so impressed that he introduced our program across the organisation.”