Six-year-old Christian of Fayetteville, N.C., has become a N.C. Children's Hospital superstar, enduring seven surgeries in one year to correct a misaligned spine and facing more to come. His latest hospital stay was 147 days long, but mom, Ashley, says he takes it all in stride. "He's a celebrity up here," she says. "We can't even walk through the hospital without someone recognizing him."

Hospital Hero: Young boy becomes hospital superstar

In his six years of life, Christian has already endured 16 surgeries, including seven in 2010, and though finally at home in Fayetteville with his mother, Ashley, he knows he will need several more.

Christian has scoliosis and kyphosis, both conditions that affect the curvature of his back. Since age 2, he's had multiple surgeries to correct his misaligned spine. Each time the rods surgically placed in his back break, and he must endure more surgeries.

Christian had his first two surgeries in Hershey, Pa., but came to N.C. Children’s Hospital for the first time more than three years ago. Since that first visit in Aug. 2007, Christian has been hospitalized many times. His longest inpatient stay (his latest) spanned nearly 150 days from Sept. 14, 2010, to Feb. 7, 2011.

As a Children's Hospital "frequent flyer," Christian has become a celebrity of sorts throughout the hospital. His fan base is extensive and continues to grow.

"Everyone knows him—from the nurses and doctors to the X-ray techs to the man at the front desk of the hospital," says Christian's mother, Ashley. "And they are all so caring. Everyone down to Melvin the janitor and Bianca in food services.

"When the front desk guy found out Christian had been in for 60 days, he went to the gift shop and bought him a beanie baby. Kelly, an LPN who used to check his vitals when he was younger, has moved to a different area yet she still comes to visit him every day on her lunch break. That makes us feel so special."

The family was thrilled this past November when Christian was chosen as one of four "Promise kids" featured in the marketing campaign for the 2010 N.C. Children’s Promise Radiothon/Telethon. "When I get better," Christian vowed, "I promise to go home and play with Mr. Bojangles. He's my cat." The notoriety was a lot of fun, but surviving such a long hospital stay is certainly not without its tribulations. Most difficult of all is the time spent apart.

Ashley, a single mom, must stay in Fayetteville during the week to work. Christian's dad, Fabian, was deployed to Afghanistan just before his last hospitalization, but his paternal grandmother, Nilda, stayed with Christian at the hospital. Ashley made the nearly two-hour trip to the Children's Hospital every weekend. The separation from her son is always trying, but she says Christian's caregivers help her through.

"The nurses and doctors call me regularly to keep me updated," says Ashley. "They even help me with gas cards and food cards. UNC just really has something special about the way it treats its patients. We are not just patients to them. We are like family."

And while there are options closer to home, Ashley says she keeps coming to N.C. Children's Hospital because she has so much faith in Christian's care team.

"I think it is so impressive that the doctors have thanked me for being patient with them as they try to help Christian," says Ashley. "I absolutely love Dr. (Richard) Henderson. He is awesome. I would not choose any other hospital in the world."

More about Christian

Hometown: Fayetteville, NC; Cumberland County — about 140 miles roundtrip
Diagnosis: Scoliosis and kyphosis
Primary pediatric specialties: Orthopaedic surgery; anesthesia
Other pediatric specialties seen: Plastic surgery; infectious diseases; general pediatrics; recreational therapy; hospital school
Frequency of visits: Post discharge every four to six weeks; more as needed by specialty
Favorite caregivers The whole nursing staff on 7 Children’s, especially nurses Candy Newsome, Mollie Maggied, Jennifer, and nurses assistant, Jessica Williams.
Amy, Dr. Henderson’s OR nurse.
Kelli Moore—former nurses assistant on 7 Children’s Hospital; she now works elsewhere in the Children’s Hospital but still visits Christian every day and takes him to Starbuck’s to get him a hot chocolate.
Dr. Richard Henderson, pediatric orthopaedic surgeon
Dr. Jodi Miles, pediatric resident
Favorite thing about N.C. Children's Hospital: "Speaking for Christian, I would say school is his favorite thing, especially science class. He absolutely loves Katie, his science teacher. He said to me the other day, 'I don’t want to leave the hospital, because I’ll miss Miss Katie too much.' For me, it’s all the nurses. They've done a wonderful job helping out Grandma whiles she stays with him. Some of the nurses even bought her an air mattress, pillow and blanket to make her stay more comfortable." ~ Christian's mom, Ashley

UPDATE: Christian's story was written in early December and updated to include his February discharge. Since that time, mom, Ashley has provided the following update via email:

"We just came up to Chapel Hill today and will return for a follow up in another six weeks. He's a celebrity up here. We can't even walk through the hospital without someone recognizing him. He's back in school and playing with his cat as promised!

"He's scheduled for another spinal fusion sometime end of March to put the rods back in his back. Right now he's wearing a brace to protect his back and help control the curving. He had a total of over 16 surgeries so far with weekly sedation for his wound vac changes while he was in the hospital. He's doing good overall now."