Caliah Russell's Story

Creative Play, Serious Care

Something Was Wrong

An energetic and playful 3-year-old, Caliah Russell—Cali for short—became increasingly lethargic, pale and irritable. Changes in her demeanor and behavior worried her parents. A trip to the pediatrician lead to a referral to Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida.

Cali's parents—Josh and Mindy—knew something was wrong, but could not have imagined the diagnosis. On Aug. 27, 2010, at their appointment at The Children's Hospital, the Russell's were given the news that Cali had acute lymphoblastic leukemia or ALL.

At that moment, life changed for the Russell family.

Cali's Treatment

Treatment started immediately, and Cali stayed at The Children's Hospital for weeks at a time. Being able to have Cali receive the treatment she needs close to home gives Josh and Mindy peace of mind that they have everyone and everything they need.

Mindy and Josh were as comfortable with the treatment as parents can possibly be, but helping a 3-year-old understand medical procedures and hospital sleepovers takes a special type of caregiver. Stacie Margaritis, child life specialist, has proven to be just that person.

Stacie plays games and role-plays with Cali to help her understand the procedures and to help her feel comfortable with her doctors and nurses. Being a creative little girl, Cali has nicknames for her equipment—her IV pole is "George," the port in her chest is "Heffalump," the numbing cream her doctors use is "magic toothpaste" and "Flutter" is the needle that the doctors use to take blood samples. Stacie and the other staff at The Children's Hospital calls Cali's equipment by name, too.

Into Remission

On the 28th day of treatment, Cali entered remission. Her oncologist, Emad Salman, M.D., says she is progressing through the other phases of treatment.

Life changed quickly for the Russell family, but together with the staff at The Children's Hospital, they are facing Cali's illness with positive attitudes and plenty of imagination.