Every night around 6 p.m., Ben Davis ’15 would leave his hotel room in Manhattan after a few hours of sleep and venture into northeast Central Park, to the village of tents occupying East Meadow. The space is usually a haven for sunbathers, Frisbee throwers and kids with pent-up energy, but in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the meadow was turned over to more serious pursuits.
Soon after Davis arrived for one of his 7-to-7 shifts, the flood lights would flicker on, illuminating the M*A*S*H-like mobile hospital Samaritan’s Purse had set up. For the next 12 hours, Davis assisted the nurses treating recovering Covid-19 patients.
Davis monitored and charted the oxygen levels and heart rates of survivors of the deadly disease, using the EMT training he received as a volunteer fireman during his Wingate days.
“In many ways, I feel God has been preparing me for this moment my whole life,” he said.
Davis, 27, certainly has the background for emergency-based mission work. Born into a family of missionaries, he spent much of his childhood in West Africa. Davis majored in political science at Wingate, with minors in French and economics, and soon after graduation he went to work for the international mission group JAARS, in Waxhaw.
Working for the past two years as an international relations officer for JAARS’ partner organization, SIL International, in Washington, D.C., Davis played an instrumental role as SIL International worked to apply language expertise that advances development, education, and engagement with scripture in local communities around the world.
He’s also a member of Samaritan’s Purse’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), which until this year had focused solely on emergency care overseas. But Covid-19 slammed New York City so hard that the Boone-based nonprofit set up a makeshift field hospital across the street from Mount Sinai Hospital, at 97th Street. This was the site of Davis’s first DART mission.
The coronavirus numbers in New York City were staggering: Through August, the city registered more than 240,000 cases and nearly 24,000 deaths. Medical personnel from around the country flew in to help ease the situation.
Licensed as an EMT-Basic in North Carolina, Davis was in New York primarily for support. The patients he tended to were alert and recovering. But they were lonely. They were not allowed any visitors, so when he wasn’t taking their pulse or recording their vitals, the affable, good-natured Davis served as a valuable stand-in for missing family members.
“One of my favorite aspects of the job is spending time sitting and talking with them,” Davis said. “I listen to them, walk alongside them holding a hand, encourage them, and pray with them if asked.”
Mission work has been a part of Davis’s life for as long as he can remember. His desire to serve was only reinforced during his time at Wingate, where the motto is “Faith, Knowledge, Service.” Those values, he said, led him to join the Wingate Volunteer Fire Department Station 9 in 2014.
After graduation, he moved to the Waxhaw VFD. Working in a rural setting brought with it many challenges.
“I responded to calls in the sprawling, southern zone of the district, where response times can be delayed for a number of reasons,” Davis says. “I learned a lot of lessons and built confidence, especially when responding in my personal vehicle, rendering early basic life support while waiting for the station apparatus and Union EMS to arrive.”
That training was vital in New York. Davis worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week in New York. He arrived in Manhattan on April 10 and left May 1, having spent roughly 250 hours comforting the afflicted.
Davis had never worked in a hospital setting before joining fellow DART members in Central Park. He’s now back in school, aiming to get a physician assistant degree, in order to undertake medical missions overseas.