This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
There are no knobs on the oven in the kitchen of Marcel Davis' house in American Fork. A rug sits over burn marks on the hardwood floor in the kitchen. The burgundy carpet is still singed.
Those are the kind of things that are hard to forget, even in the middle of a pressure-filled basketball game. May 10, 2008, is kind of hard to forget.
Marcel Davis, the second-oldest of Rodney and Kim Davis' four children, goes through every day, every American Fork basketball practice, with horrible memories in the back of his mind. Thanks to his quick thinking, those memories of his youngest brother, Matteo, aren't tragic.
Matteo is severely autistic. He can walk but does not use a toilet. He can communicate but does not talk. He doesn't know that it's not OK to gulp down a stranger's drink at a restaurant but he does get excited when he sees Marcel.
"They were always close," Kim said. "Marcel is the caregiver in our family. If someone is hurting, he hurts, too. That has drawn him to Matteo."
It takes an army of aunts, uncles, cousins and a maternal grandmother to care for the youngest Davis.
But a year and a half ago, it was just Marcel and Matteo. The two were watching cartoons on the main level of the house. Marcel went downstairs to check on his grandma, who was visiting from California.
When he went back upstairs, Matteo was gone. Marcel looked frantically for him but it wasn't long until he found him. Matteo was walking up the stairs, his clothes engulfed in flames from his pants all the way up to his shoulders.
Marcel remembered what he learned in school: stop, drop and roll. He pulled down the sleeves of his shirt over his fists and tackled Matteo to the floor. Being autistic, Matteo has a high tolerance for pain. He didn't scream or cry the whole time. The family figures it was about 45 seconds from when Matteo stuck something in the gas stove and his pants caught fire until Marcel found him.
Marcel saved his brother but he didn't feel like a hero. The image of his little brother was ingrained into his memory and the questions flooded his mind. For a while, he didn't stop interrogating himself. "Why didn't I bring him with me? What if I didn't leave him?" He remembers the look in Matteo's eyes.
"He didn't know what was going on," Marcel said. "He just had a look in his eyes, like, 'Help me.' "
Even though doctors thought Matteo would not survive, Marcel felt so guilty that it was hard for him to see his brother at the hospital.
"When I got here, the first thing I remember is seeing [Marcel] just break down and saying, "I am so sorry,'" said Rodney, who was coaching a basketball team in an out-of-state contest. "It could have happened to anybody. Marcel told me if he could trade places with Matteo, he'd do it in a heartbeat."
After a two-week coma and against long odds, Matteo pulled through. But not without burn scars wrapped around his torso like a corset. Not without itching so intense that scratching usually leads to drawing blood.
Matteo is not completely out of the woods. He had skin graft surgery in October on his lower right leg. The Davises know they will never really be out of the woods. Matteo will always find his way into trouble because he doesn't know the difference.
"All we can do," Rodney said. "Is try to keep him out of harm's way."
Matteo still has the mannerisms of an infant. But, Marcel knows how to deal with him. Sitting in the family room during an interview, Matteo gets a little cranky. Marcel just opens his arms. Matteo climbs on his lap, the two intertwine fingers and just rock back and forth in the chair. is at peace.
For Marcel, the experience has been life-changing. His priorities are straight. His perspective is clear. Kim sometimes worries that the responsibilities are building up in his life, that it might be too overwhelming. He has to keep up his GPA, he is the starting point guard on the varsity team, he has to help take care of his brother and then there's the peer pressure. But then he'll say something that reminds her of how mature he is.
"He'll tell me, 'Mom, I know the NBA is a long shot,' " Kim said. "'But if I can just go and get a college scholarship, I'll get a good job and take care of Matteo.' "
He has a fair shot at that. He's one of the most recruited sophomores in the state. In-state and out-of-state colleges alike have contacted him and shown interest. He has led American Fork to a complete turnaround, helping a team that won three games last season to an 8-4 record.
Last week, after his team lost a close game to Jordan, Marcel was upset. But Matteo didn't know the difference. When he saw Marcel come out of the locker room, Matteo went toward him and smiled as he gave him a hug.
Marcel is at peace.
» Marcel Davis is averaging 9.25 points per game for American Fork and around five assists per game.
» Davis went through a traumatic experience with his autistic brother, Matteo.
» While babysitting Matteo in May 2008, Marcel found his brother engulfed in flames. Matteo spent two weeks in a coma.