For 31 days last fall, Grayson Russell was an inpatient at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. During October 2018, he was still in the hospital when his school’s big homecoming game rolled around. Instead of joining his friends at the homecoming game and dance, in an awesome move of solidarity, those friends came to him.
They celebrated in suits and gowns and ate in the hospital cafeteria. They took photos in the hospital lobby and they sat down and prayed over their meal. The setting was certainly unconventional for a homecoming dinner, but it was memorable. Especially because when his team won the game Friday night, his teammates brought him the game ball Saturday morning at the hospital. The San Antonio Christian School started an entire campaign called “War Lion” in honor of the Russell family’s allegiance to SACS Lions and Auburn University (War Eagle). They printed shirts, and banners and brought all that school spirit to the hospital.
Grayson’s mother, who a year later still can’t believe what an amazing experience she and her family received while at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, shared these unbelievably cool photos with us. She thought others would like to see snapshots of a story that hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention, but showcases the important support and compassion often on display inside the hospital hallways and the special place that is The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.
Grayson’s hospital stay in 2018 was certainly unexpected. The teen couldn’t beat a bad cold. He had flu-like symptoms, which then turned into severe headaches and a worsening cough. After four visits to two different doctors and an area hospital, he was finally admitted to a San Antonio hospital through the ER. A spinal tap confirmed a bacterial infection, but none of the usual culprits seemed to be to blame. The next day he was transferred by ambulance to The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Part of that team of experts included a pediatric infectious disease specialist.
“Dr. Luis Castagnini met us at the ambulance bay. We felt an instant ray of hope,” describes Grayson’s mom, Melissa.
Head to toe scans revealed a mediastinal abscess and esophageal perforation of unknown origin and at least 13 brain abscesses, with every region of his brain affected. It took nearly two weeks of long-distance conference calls, tests, scans, cultures and a battery of different tests to finally identify the bacteria causing his illness. A lab in the state of Washington was able to tease out the DNA of Streptococcus intermedius in a small sample of his Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). It is a common bacteria that we all have that lives in the G.I. tract, but, it should never be in the CSF. CSF is a clear, colorless body fluid found in the brain and spinal cord.
During Grayson’s early days in the hospital, he was treated with antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial and TB meds. Identifying the culprit allowed the team of specialists to taper off many of the medications and target his treatment.
“Brothers Dr. James Noel and Dr. Adam Noel in the G.I. department literally invented a procedure to partially close his perforation with staples. They sketched it out on a piece of paper in the pre-op room and we signed for consent,” explained Melissa. “This modified closure allowed the mediastinal abscess to finish draining yet adjusted the angle so that he could begin to eat and drink again. He lost 25 pounds during his illness. All during this time, Grayson was only allowed to swish and spit water and sugar-free drinks.”
Sister Carla from the Child Life department would bring supplies to the family so that they could make a drink chart and rank the labels of his favorite drinks in order of preference. He went home with a PICC line and the family would run the IV during halftime of his football games on the sideline while he was standing with his teammates.
Life couldn’t have been more abnormal. However, fast forward one year and many follow-ups with cardiology, neurology, immunology, G.I and infectious disease specialists and many others later, Grayson is a happy and healthy young man and fully participating in athletics again.
“While we know his chest CT and his brain MRI will never be completely clear, we know God brought him this far through the healing hands of the wonderful team at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and the connections they have with experts across this country,” said Melissa.
She adds, “Having an in-house Ronald McDonald facility inside the hospital was a complete Godsend.”
Melissa never left the hospital the entire month Grayson was hospitalized. The Ronald McDonald facility allowed the family to escape for a couple of hours at a time to rest.
Individual Associates also made an impression on this family.
The family nominated a nurse, Joy from PIMC, for the Daisy award for nursing excellence. Joy ended up taking home the honor.
Paul, another nurse, made such an impression on Grayson and his friends that they named their chat group after him and all wore matching bracelets for a while.
“While it was the most terrifying situation for all of our lives, it was also the best in so many ways,” explained Melissa.
Thank you to Melissa for sharing this story of your son’s bravery and your family’s journey. We couldn’t have asked for a better follow up to this story.