‘Still here and still smiling’

Jim Grant / Nevada AppealCarson City resident Andrew Russell, receives a little love from his service dog and companion, Fred the basset hound.

Jim Grant / Nevada AppealCarson City resident Andrew Russell, receives a little love from his service dog and companion, Fred the basset hound.

Andrew Russell does not believe he, or anyone, can cheat death. Russell has brushed hands with death at least twice and marks his life as lucky.“I’m still here and I’m still smiling,” he said, one of his hands on Frederick the basset hound, his service dog.Frederick, named after a 13th century Polish prince, had 13 of his teeth removed because they were causing him health issues. When Russell, who is disabled, received the estimate, he was struck. It was well outside his price range. After attempting to solicit the funds from a basset hound organization, he decided to turn to the community and submitted a letter to the editor, which the Nevada Appeal published on Jan. 4.The donations came rolling in and Frederick’s operation, around $1,000 at Sierra Veterinary, was paid for within three to four hours, Russell said.Russell said he is grateful to the community for paying for the cost to keep his service dog alive and healthy. With all the extra funds raised, he will be able to get another cleaning and checkup.After Russell’s second brush with death, 10 years ago, he was not in good shape. He was in a car with a coworker he later learned was still intoxicated from the night before. Driving at Lake Tahoe, the coworker went straight on a hairpin turn.Russell’s seat belt broke and sent him out the passenger window of the vehicle. He was in a coma for seven days, and then in a medically induced coma for another six days.If his seatbelt hadn’t broken, Russell would have been crushed along with the passenger seat because the vehicle hit a boulder that protruded a few feet off of the ground.“If the seatbelt wouldn’t have failed, I would have been crushed to death,” he said. Russell looked off to the side. “I got away easy with that one.” A firefighter, just off duty, was behind the vehicle when it went straight as the road curved and called in the accident. Russell was flown to the hospital.“It was like blinking and waking up in the hospital.” Russell’s first death brush happened at Lake Tahoe when he was 16, walking on the side of the road. A motorist hit him, braking only after she had impacted his body.A man, about to go kayaking below, heard the screech of the brakes and came running. The man knew CPR“They said without him, I’d be dead.”Russell did not walk away. With a shattered tibia and fibia in his right leg and a dislocated shoulder and other injuries, Russell was not in good shape for a 16-year-old. Now 31, he wears a back brace and usually walks with a cane.“I can’t say I’ve ever cheated death, that’s for sure. But you can brush fingers with it.”Russell is not one of a kind, although his injuries may be. Russell has an identical twin brother who has one more spleen than Russell does.Both Russell and his twin tried to join the military at the same time but Russell was turned down because of his missing spleen. He said he often misses his brother but Fred helps to relieve the anxiety and loneliness. “He’s in Germany and he,” Russell points down to Fred, watching events unfold outside the window, “he keeps me sane. Gives me my entertainment. My sense of being never alone.”Fred has been eating kibbel softened by boiling water or wet dog food since the surgery and has even lost a few pounds. Since the surgery, he’s been put on a dinner-only diet so the husky Basset, weighing in at 83.2 pounds the last time he was weighed, can come down to a manageable 70 to 75.Fred was having a nasty time with ear infections but now that his infected teeth have been pulled, his ears are returning to normal, Russell said.“His breath, his nose, his ears, they are all doing better,” he said. “No more ear infections.”


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