She’s Deeply Devoted To Children With Down Syndrome

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Charlene Davis has cared for thousands of children with Down syndrome. She has devoted her life to making their lives better. And for that --- she is loved. In honor of World Down Syndrome Day, we highlight Davis’ career.

There was the little boy who wanted to wrap his tiny body around Charlene Davis’ feet. Not her shoes. Her bare feet.

So, without a worry in the world about his plans, he carefully removed Davis’ shoes and then her socks. And he snuggled up to the feet of this woman he loves.

There was the big boy who wanted to grab the attention of Davis. The 12-year-old boy was at camp, out in the middle of the lake with a life jacket on. He started flailing his arms, seemingly in distress.

Davis rushed down the hill to shore not knowing what she would find. She found that boy laughing, looking right into her eyes, the biggest grin on his face.

He wanted Davis to check on him, this woman that he loves.

Fiercely and passionately, that’s how Davis’ patients love. And it’s exactly how she loves them back.

For 23 years, Davis, N.P., has devoted her career to developmental pediatrics at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. 

She has cared for thousands of children with Down syndrome. She has devoted her life to making their lives better. And for that --- she is loved.

“She is absolutely fantastic,” says Richard Schreiner, M.D., former chairman and physician-in-chief at Riley, whose daughter Kelley has Down syndrome. “She has seen thousands of children, done more for those families than you can even imagine.”

The impact Davis has had on the lives of these children is great. But spend just a few moments talking to her and it’s clear to see the impact they’ve had on her is just as great.

“Children with Down syndrome hold a special place in my heart,” she says. “They are beautiful children, just beautiful.”


Anyone who knew Davis growing up knew she would settle on a career in the medical field.

As a toddler in Bryan, Ohio, she would always move the arrow on her See ‘n Say to the X – for X-ray. She would listen to the voice say X-ray over and over again. It fascinated her.

Then, at age 6, Davis’ best friend – who she loved to play Barbies with on the front porch -- was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Davis gave up the Barbies and spent the next year at that friend’s house feeding her and pushing her in her wheelchair, until she passed away.

“That experience did ignite this passion in me,” Davis says. “So, I always had this inkling that I wanted to be a nurse.”

After graduating from high school, Davis made that dream come true, spending three years in nursing school before coming to Indiana University in Indianapolis for her bachelor’s degree.  

She started her career at Riley in 1984, working in the ICU for five years before moving to the recovery room and then the pulmonary  department.  

While working in the pediatric ICU, Davis saw a lot of cardiac patients, many patients with Down syndrome -- about 60 percent of children with Down syndrome have heart issues.

She fell in love.

She went to work in developmental pediatrics in 2005 and, 12 years ago, started working in Riley’s Down Syndrome Clinic.

“These children bring so much to everyone’s lives,” says Davis, who with husband, Drew, has two grown children, 27-year-old Hannah and 22-year-old Collin. “They are so sincere, yet they just really take things light heartedly.”

But, most endearing about her patients, they just love people, especially Dr. Davis.


When a baby is born and diagnosed with Down syndrome, it’s Davis’ job to meet with the family. She talks to them about what to expect, gives them information and community resources – and offers a listening ear.

Parents often have questions. They are scared. They are overwhelmed. Davis, who in 1990 earned her nurse practitioner degree from IU, can give them plenty of examples of children with Down syndrome who are thriving.

Many people with Down syndrome live into their 50s and 60s. Not long ago, life expectancy was late 20s.

“I really love when I meet new families, new parents in the neonatal intensive care unit,” she says. “It’s so nice to be able to touch their lives and encourage them and truly give them hope.” 

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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