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Meet ‘the mayor of the PICU’ at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital



On June 26, 2019, 6-year-old Cole Joseph Russell got sick.

Things went from bad to worse fast, and Cole was rushed to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital, where doctors told his parents the boy would need emergency surgery.

“We knew it was very, very serious,” Cole’s mom recalled.

Cole with his parents, Emily and Chris Russell, and older brother Brayden
Cole with two members of his care team, Dr. Erin Trakas (left) and Dr. Emily Nazarian

Over the next seven months, one surgery turned in 12. Cole had suffered a volvulus, or a twisting of intestines, and a loss of bowels. He also had a stroke while he was in the hospital and, for a time, couldn’t move the left side of his body.

Through all of that, Cole kept fighting — his spirits staying high. He got a breathing tube and quickly learned how to plug it up and create funny noises to tease the medical staff. He’d show off his dance moves — particularly “the floss”. He’d build Hot Wheel car ramps and engage in Nerf gun battles in the halls of the hospital.

“We called him ‘the mayor of the PICU,’” said Dr. Emily Nazarian, a pediatric critical care physician at Novant Health. “Cole wins your heart whenever you see him.”

These days, Cole is home with his family and back to his old self, his mother said. He plays sports, jokes around with his brother and is doing better than anyone could have imagined.

“Our family will forever be grateful for Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital and everything they did for our Cole,” his mother said. “I can’t imagine taking him anywhere else.”

To support the life-saving work that happens at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital every day, consider a donation to the Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation today.

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