Cole Honors Caregivers With a Song

March 30, 2015

A 10-year-old boy with a guitar draws a crowd in the 18th-floor lobby of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. Is he the star of the latest Disney Channel show here to visit patients? No, he's Cole Martin, a Lurie Children's patient making good on a promise to the doctors and nurses who treated him for over three years for lymphoma. He’s performing his "Hospital Song," which is full of inside jokes and "shout-outs" to his caregivers in the hospital's Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. The Center is ranked 6th in the nation by U.S.News & World Report for pediatric oncology.

"Cole really had a great time writing his song," says his mom Sharon. "It was his way of saying 'thank you' to the doctors and nurses who took such good care of him."

Cole was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoblastic lymphoma when he was 7. The diagnosis was made after a tissue sample from a procedure to remove a swollen lymph node behind one of his ears was sent by an area hospital to Lurie Children's for evaluation. "Other than the swollen lymph node, he had no symptoms and seemed perfectly healthy," says Sharon. 

Lurie Children's oncologist, Elaine Morgan, MD, devised a treatment plan that included nine months of weekly outpatient chemotherapy treatments, followed by two and a half years of monthly visits for treatments and daily maintenance oral chemo, which Cole could take exclusively at home.

Shortly after beginning his treatments, Cole began to lose his hair. Even worse was the nausea that followed each chemo session. "Cole constantly felt sick in one way or another for those first nine months," says Sharon.

Sharon, her husband Brad and their younger son Jake,  had to quickly adjust to their "new normal."

"Right after his diagnosis we told Cole, 'There will be a lot of days when you may not feel well, but we’ll focus on having as much fun as possible on the days when you do feel well,'" says Sharon. "Right from the start Cole kept a positive attitude and just rolled with it.

"Also, the staff at Lurie Children's really made it easy for him to keep that attitude. Cole would banter back and forth and joke around with his nurses, and Dr. Morgan and everyone else were on top of his care. So we always felt we were in good hands."

Cole's relationship with his caregivers planted the seed for his song. He kept a mental diary of his experiences during his treatment. After he started taking guitar lessons, he told his caregivers that he was writing a song for them and that when he was finished with his treatments, he would bring in his guitar and sing it.

"It eventually became a running joke," says Sharon. "Every time we came for his checkups the nurses would ask, 'How’s the song coming along?'"

Cole loves science and was a participant in a research protocol at the hospital. So it was appropriate that he was chosen to represent Lurie Children's patients to present a gift to retired local business executive Stanley Manne at last June's dedication of the Stanley Manne Children's Research Institute at Lurie Children's. The dedication acknowledged Mr. Manne's transformative gift to enhance pediatric research and was the second largest gift in the hospital's 133-year history.

"He was very, very proud to have been chosen to thank Mr. Manne on behalf all the other kids," says Sharon. "Anything that helps further pediatric research is a wonderful thing."

Cole finished his chemo treatments in November 2014 and has checkups every other month. He’s been in remission since shortly after his treatments began.

"His song represents how connected we are to the staff at the hospital," says Sharon. "It’s a way for Cole to repay everyone at the hospital for everything they did for him."