The California Cure Best Foot Forward: Dana Davis

When I awoke in the hospital recovery room in January 2006, a good 15 minutes passed while I wondered if the surgeons had actually removed my whole foot. I finally drummed up the courage to look under the sheet and discovered that my foot had been spared. Yes! I was missing a toe, but that seemed to pale in comparison. I’ve had about 15 corrective surgeries on my feet, all related to prolonged diabetes, but I had never lost a toe. Still, I was grateful. Not that it was wonderful news, but it wasn’t a disaster.

In just a few days, I was feeling better than I had in months.

I was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was seven—one day after I’d made trick-or-treating rounds in my Denver neighborhood and had eaten as much candy as possible. I was a skinny kid to begin with, but I had lost 15 pounds in a few months and was always exhausted and thirsty. My mom knew something was wrong and took me to the doctor.

All I remember is the doctor telling me I would have to take a shot once a day every day. He may have said “for the rest of your life,” but I was seven, and you don’t really compute that this is a forever thing. Mainly, I didn’t like feeling different from other kids. For me, chronic disease translated as chronic embarrassment.

When I look back at that time, I realize how lucky I was—my family didn’t treat me differently. I was never led to believe there was anything I couldn’t do because of my disease. When my mother first conveyed the news to my father, he said, “Fix it, Barbara.” That comment always pierces right to my heart. It must have been terrifying to have your little girl suffering with such a big disease. He was used to getting his own way in business, but this was not going to be an easy problem to solve.

Of course, my mother, Barbara Davis, really did set out to “fix” it. In 1977, she and my father, Marvin, launched the Children’s Diabetes Foundation in Denver, which has treated more than 5,000 needy children and given them access to proper care and education. The following year, she started the Carousel of Hope Ball to benefit kids who suffer from diabetes, which has to date raised more than $70 million.

We moved to Los Angeles when I was in my early twenties. I went on to get my masters in education at USC and then taught kindergarten at John Thomas Dye for 15 years. It was a job I loved, but finally my doctors recommended I stop teaching because my condition was exacerbated by long hours on my feet in the classroom. It was hard to leave those kids and my job, but I also knew the time had come. This wasn’t a fight I was going win.

All through my life, I tried to find fashionable shoes that would accommodate my orthotics or at least provide stability and support, but there was just nothing out there. It seemed strange to me that women couldn’t buy properly engineered shoes that were also stylish. After consulting with a podiatric surgeon, pedorthist and a whole team of foot-care professionals, we developed Dana Davis Shoes, which have a proprietary technology that features built-in or removable orthotics. Of course, the shoes aren’t just for women with foot problems but for all women.

I don’t want to sound like I love being diabetic, but I do love the person I have become because of this disease. My footwear line only exists because I have firsthand knowledge and expertise that has come out of managing my disease. Whether through my parents’ foundation or my new collection, at the end of the day it’s difficult for me to regret a condition that has helped so many others. And as a homage to the inspiration behind the Dana Davis line, I actually named my holding company Nine Toes Productions.