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Poppa Burt salutes memory of little Champ

November 25, 2011 - Burton Cole (humor columnist)

I still carry his tooth print on my arm.

My baby boy, the kid who medical science said couldn’t survive, rested against my shoulder. He squirmed around, turned his head and gummed my left bicep.


That’s how I found out Josh was teething.

Joshie was born Feb. 24, 1989, in Springfield, Ill., and spent the first 28 days of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit. A mixed diagnosis and unanswered questions boiled down essentially to massive hydrocephalus – fluids built up in his head, his skull plates enlarged, and, according to the X-rays, the vast majority of his brain was destroyed.

“When can we take him home?”

The neonatal neurologist’s eyes widened. “You want to take him home?”

“Um, yeah.”

Josh was sent home with a death sentence. Maybe he can make it four months. Don’t expect anything. He’ll never communicate, never recognize his parents, never live. Never, never, never, never. Just make him comfortable and don’t get too attached.

One of the first lessons Josh taught me was this: Never listen to the nevers; you’ll miss the miracles.

Also, don’t let teething babies gum your arms.

No, Josh didn’t talk. But he communicated well if you cared to learn the language.

No, he didn’t walk. But he gasped into some of the most refreshing giggle fits when someone held him up and “walked” him across the floor. I’m guessing he was itching to learn.

I nearly gasped into giggle fits myself every time I watched this “bear with very little brain” play mind games with “experts.”

I grinned like the simpleton he was supposed to be when I watched Josh light up at people who treated our little guy like a little boy, not a lab experiment they felt compelled to classify somewhere in textbooks.

Sometimes, the grin turned sheepish as I saw how carefully my youngster tracked pretty young blondes with soft voices. Kid. You’re too young.

And yes, he certainly knew who his parents and big sister were. Against medical advice, his mommy never doubted that he would. It’s amazing how often moms trump doctors.

Joshie died Nov. 25, 1998, 13 years ago today. He was 9 years and 9 months old – roughly 29 times the life expectancy allotted by medical science. I guess we forgot to make him comfortable when we took him home. Actually, wrestling on the floor with his dad and taking bumpy wheelchair rides seemed to rank among Josh’s favorite activities. Going home to be put on a shelf without attachment – not so much.

Josh taught this dear old dad wonderful lessons about possibilities, faith, fun, patience, persistence – and miracles.

I still carry his footprint on my heart.


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Joshua Wayne Cole, Daddy's Champ, 1989-1998


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