Williamsport boy’s near-death battle with COVID-19

In a selfie taken at Geisinger Medical Center, Stacey Smith poses with her 7-year-old son, Cole Vogt. He is smiling from ear-to-ear, the gaps between loose baby teeth on proud display. Although her mouth is covered by a mask, it’s easy to tell by her eyes that Stacey is smiling too. How could she not? Her youngest child, nearly killed by sudden, COVID-induced diabetes in front of her, is alive.

Cole, an avid science lover and soon-to-be second-grader, is one of the thousands of children across America who have contracted the coronavirus so far this year. A typically healthy kid, he alarmed his babysitter when he began throwing up, unprovoked, the morning of Thursday, Aug. 6.

Stacey, who was out of town, had been contacted by her ex-husband less than 24 hours earlier  with disturbing news — he had tested positive for COVID-19. When Cole’s babysitter called, Stacey immediately drove back to Williamsport to pick up Cole. When they got home, she called the doctor, who said Cole presumably was suffering from COVID-19 and to keep him quarantined. 

As the day went on, Cole stopped throwing up and began experiencing extreme fatigue and dehydration. By nighttime, the normally sharp 7-year-old started to act confused. This time, Stacey called a local hospital’s ER. Their response was much snappier. “They said, ‘We’re getting a room ready,’” Stacey recalled. “ ‘Bring him out right now.’ ”

Test results — positive

The night was anticlimactic. Cole, his strange symptoms at a standstill, was swabbed for the virus and sent home to rest. On Friday morning, Stacey got the phone call she’d been dreading — Cole had tested positive for COVID-19.

As the hours passed, she watched and worried. Cole’s health worsened. Although he did not experience the most common virus symptoms — fever, persistent cough and shortness of breath — there was no denying that Cole was seriously ill. 

Stacey Smith poses with her 7-year-old son, Cole Vogt. PHOTO PROVIDED

That afternoon, when Stacey left him in bed to do some cleaning downstairs, she heard a loud thump. When she ran upstairs, she found Cole stumbling across the room, unable to walk. This warranted another call to the ER and staff again told Stacey to bring him in quickly. 

However, when she and Cole arrived, there was no bed ready. The hospital staff calmly told Stacey to take her son back to the car, where they assured they would call her as soon as a space opened. She reluctantly obeyed.

Forty-five minutes later, as they waited  in the parking lot, no call had come. Cole increasingly grew more agitated and restless. Stacey, at a loss for how to soothe him, decided to drive back home, only a five-minute ride from the hospital.

‘All hell was breaking loose’

Though Stacey promptly called the hospital to let nurses  know she had taken Cole home, she did not get a ring back until an hour and a half later — 2 hours and 15 minutes after she initially was told to keep her son in the parking lot. She recalled that the nurse, a different one from a new shift, seemed annoyed with her for driving away. Soon after, Stacey was told that a discharge was taking place and that Cole could have the bed if she waited in the parking lot — again. 

Stacey, at this point deeply frustrated, once again loaded Cole into the car for a trip to the hospital. But then, something strange happened — Stacey’s normally reliable Toyota wouldn’t start. As she messaged her boyfriend to ask for a lift, the hospital called — they were finally ready for Cole. When she explained that her car had stalled, they told her to call an ambulance. 

Stacey believes the moment that followed was divine intervention. “The ambulance no sooner started coming up my street and, all of a sudden, my car miraculously started.”

Stacey decided to go with the ambulance. On the way, the paramedic asked if the hospital had taken Cole’s blood sugar when he first came to the hospital lethargic Thursday night. She shook her head no — after all, he was not yet diagnosed with diabetes. The paramedic looked incredulous. “‘That’s the first thing they should’ve done,’” Stacey remembered him saying. He quickly took Cole’s sugar level, which registered dangerously high. 

When they arrived at the hospital, the nurses hooked Cole up to an IV with insulin and gave him a shot in his belly. Stacey had been in his room for about an hour when her phone started to die. Wary of losing her only source of contact with  family and friends, she called her boyfriend to ask if he could bring her charger. In the five minutes during which Stacey left the room, Cole went into diabetic shock. She can picture the moment she came back with chilling clarity.

“The nurse is like, ‘He’s in critical condition — Life Flight is here. Do you mind if he goes into a helicopter?’ I said, ‘What happened in five minutes?!’. . . All hell was breaking loose, basically.”

Luckily, Cole was lucid enough to tell the nurses he didn’t want to go in the helicopter, which would be headed to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville — not without his mom. They agreed to send him in an ambulance instead. Stacey was not allowed on this ambulance ride and was driven to the hospital by her boyfriend and friend.

“I was a mess,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on out there.”

‘He wasn’t himself’ 

When Cole arrived at Geisinger on Friday night, he was immediately admitted to the hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, or PICU. Once again the 7-year-old was hooked up to a series of IVs to flush the ketones — dangerous chemicals that build up in a diabetic’s body when they aren’t getting enough insulin — out of his system.

The staff monitored Cole’s progress by periodically testing his urine and would give him insulin every three hours. After a touch-and-go two days, he was finally deemed stable enough to be moved to a room of his own. Though Stacey was relieved that Cole was no longer in immediate danger, it broke her heart to see her typically cheerful son so upset over the constant finger sticks and insulin injections. 

“He was going crazy. He didn’t understand why (this) was happening,” Stacey said. “He just fought (everything). . . He was really mean. He wasn’t himself.”

Going home/ The support that got Stacey and Cole through

Stacey may have been by herself at Cole’s bedside, but she was certainly not alone. After posting a Facebook update on Saturday, Aug. 8, about Cole’s critical condition, she was shocked to receive an outpouring of love and support from friends, family and even strangers. She and Cole have been gifted everything from monetary donations to presents and food.

Cole Vogt lays in his bed surrounded by gifts from friends, family and even strangers. PHOTO PROVIDED

“I’m overwhelmed, I’m grateful,” Stacey said, choking up a bit. “Honestly, I don’t think I deserve it. . . But it’s amazing.”

‘Take it seriously’ 

Stacey has kept Cole and herself under strict quarantine at home since Aug. 11 — five days after the rocky start of his illness. She is happy to report that although he will be homeschooled this year, he is almost completely back to his old self.

Though Stacey reiterates that Cole is still asymptomatic , the doctors told her that the virus was likely the cause of his sudden-onset Type-1 diabetes — a relationship that is only just starting to be studied by medical professionals.

 She urges those who think the coronavirus is a hoax to reconsider.

“Just take it seriously,” Stacey said. “It’s nothing to joke about.”


  • Allison Lax

    Allison is a graduate of Lycoming College. She is a Lycoming County native, lover of writing, the arts and people.

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Allison Lax

Allison is a graduate of Lycoming College. She is a Lycoming County native, lover of writing, the arts and people.

  1. Allison,

    I usually do not argue these articles as i am a believer in COVID and a Democrat.. BUT, an article like this (especially in my hometown) is misleading and fear-mongering, making journalists seem “fake” among certain groups.

    As a health professional, and based upon your reporting…This unfortunate child had a near-death experience with diabetes type I, and happened to be positive for COVID 19. It seems that his main ER visit centered around his confusion, disorientation, and inability to walk (ALL symptoms of a low-insulin Diabetic episode), also…the longer this child was without diagnosis, the worse this episode can get… As you stated, he did NOT have the typical fever, breathing issues, or exhaustion shown by coronavirus patients. I highly suggest you retract or adjust your headline, as This makes “On the pulse news” seem like yellow journalism, which is both 1) sad to see come from a Lycoming College senior (And respected journalism program), and frightening to an uneducated eye, that simply skims their headlines (as most social media onlookers do). Thanks.

  2. In addition to what Mr. Lew said, the statement, “…those who think the coronavirus is a hoax…” is highly politically charged. NOBODY thinks the virus is a hoax. However, if you criticize the media fearmongering or the draconian measures that are being used for political gain, this is how you are belittled and demonized. To use that as the closing to the article, which is actually more about sudden onset of type 1 diabetes, than it is about covid 19, is totally irresponsible. This is not good journalism.

  3. I agree with first comment. Diabetes could have killed him. I dislike these articles designed to continue fear re: Covid. I am disgusted with media that continues to push that agenda.

  4. I think this article is really interesting and it has been suggested and studied for many years the effect of some viruses spreading to the pancreas and triggering the start of type 1 diabetes, it’s just not well-understood yet. So the above commenters should maybe do some research instead of trying to deny the link between a virus like covid19 and the rapid onset of type 1 diabetes. People probably should be worried and take every possible precaution to mitigate. Also, many people out there DO think this is all an overblown hoax! Are you kidding me?

  5. This article was very well written, I could relate to the mother’s distress. I’m very relieved that the boy is recovered.