Sarah and Laurance: An enduring love, a lasting bond

How a scare on the high seas had a happy ending for a fairy tale couple

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 8, 2012 

Sarah and Laurance Davis are shown Thursday in their Lady's Island home. The couple returned home last week from a cruise to Alaska, where Sarah Davis had to be airlifted from the ship to a Seattle hospital after a blood clot was discovered in her leg.

DELAYNA EARLEY, STAFF PHOTO

From the day they met as teenagers more than 60 years ago at a Bay Street five and dime, Sarah and Laurance Davis had been nearly inseparable.

Sarah, 82, a lifelong Beaufortonian, and Laurance, 83, who came to town in 1946, raised three children, traveled the world and grew old together.

It was never just Sarah or just Laurance. It was always Sarah and Laurance.

But now, somewhere off the coast of Alaska, Laurance was being told, for one of the first times in their lives together, that Sarah was going someplace he couldn't.

There simply wasn't room on the helicopter.

Laurance still finds it hard to talk about that drizzly mid-August morning in the northern Pacific.

When asked about it last week, he fidgeted and his eyes, quickly filling with tears, scanned the living room ceiling as he struggled to compose himself long enough to describe the fear.

"It was just very traumatic," he said finally.

Sarah sat beside him in her wheelchair. She touched him lightly on the shoulder.

Her eyes said one thing: I'm here and everything is all right.

TWO DIFFERENT COLORED FEET

In the weeks before the group of more than 20 Beaufort residents boarded the Diamond Princess in Vancouver on Aug. 18, it was Laurance's health that had everyone concerned.

He was a little more than three months past lower-back surgery and needed a cane to walk.

But three days into the seven-day cruise, after a day spent strolling around Ketchikan, Alaska, it was Sarah who began to falter.

It started with numbness in her right foot.

Then came an all-but-blinding pain in the same leg.

"I looked down and my feet were two different colors," Sarah said. "It was kind of pale and yellow. There was no blood getting to that part of my leg. We knew I had to get down to the infirmary."

The ship's doctor diagnosed Sarah with a blood clot in her right leg and issued a grim and frightening prognosis -- unless she got off the ship and into a hospital, she would lose the leg in less than six hours.

A RESCUE FROM ABOVE

The ship's captain called the Coast Guard. Within hours, a helicopter was on its way from Sitka, Alaska, expected to arrive at about 3 a.m.

But it wasn't a simple medivac.

The chopper couldn't land on the deck of the cruise liner.

Instead, Sarah would have to be hoisted from the top level of the ship in a metal rescue basket and loaded into the helicopter as it hovered overhead.

And there was no room for Laurance on the chopper.

As the helicopter neared, the captain informed the other passengers of the rescue and said they could watch it on the ship's closed circuit television. They were told to stay off the deck.

Like the others, Laurance stayed in his cabin, some 10 levels below the spot where the love of his life dangled in a basket in the Alaskan darkness.

"I just couldn't watch," he said, tears welling again. "I just couldn't."

On deck, Sarah calmly awaited the chopper's arrival. If she feared for her life or her leg that morning, she hid it well.

"(The Coast Guard) told me they were going to try to make it as smooth as possible," she said. "I trusted them completely, and they did a great job."

Sarah was flown to an airport in Juneau, where a specially equipped jet idled, waiting to whisk her to Seattle's Harborview Medical Center two hours away.

Aboard the jet, paramedics treated Sarah with blood thinners. She took in the scenery as it glided past the plane's windows.

"It was a beautiful two-hour flight," Sarah said with a smile. "There were spectacular views out of either side of the airplane."

Doctors credited that flight and the treatment she received in the air with saving her leg.

"What she desperately needed was heparin ... so it was critical that we get her off the cruise ship and get her to a place where there was a blood thinner ... as quickly as possible," Dr. Ben Starnes, a surgeon at Harborview, told Seattle TV station KING.

The ship docked in Juneau about three hours later. Laurance caught an Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle, where he rushed to Harborview.

Sarah was still in the emergency room.

Now, they were Laurance and Sarah again.

"I was just so relieved," he said. "I just love this girl."

'LOVE AND RESPECT'

Sarah spent nearly 10 hours in surgery. Doctors removed the blood clot, which is believed to have broken loose from her aorta.

After eight days in the hospital, she and Laurance returned to their Lady's Island home last week.

They won't be returning to Alaska anytime soon.

"What have I learned from this?" Sarah asked jokingly. "Never fly east to west. It's a nightmare. Flying north and south is fine, but when you fly to the West Coast, it's such a headache."

The Davis' will celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary in November, surrounded by three children, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

They said a long, happy marriage takes work.

"It's all about give-and-take and compromise," Sarah said. "And don't be afraid to butt heads sometimes."

Laurance looked at his wife as she spoke, his hand on her knee, and began to tear up again.

"It's all about love and respect," he said softly.

Sarah shook her head slightly, looked at her husband, and smiled.

It was the same quiet bond they'd shared since that day in the five and dime.

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.

Related content:

To view the Seattle TV story on Sarah and Laurence Davis, go to

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