Special mom tackles her challenges

Dorice Russell and her children Nathan and Manny in the driveway to their home in Princeton Monday evening this week.
Dorice Russell and her children Nathan and Manny in the driveway to their home in Princeton Monday evening this week.

Dorice Russell, who is a frequent volunteer at Fairview Northland Medical Center in Princeton, is also a busy woman who faces unique challenges as a mother.

She is unable to walk most of the time and one of her two children has a form of autism, which the child exhibits in hyperenergy and impulsiveness.

Russell, who suffers the residual effects of polio, has to use an electric wheelchair to get around. She uses that to go between her home near the fairgrounds in Princeton and the hospital during the warmer months for her volunteering. Other times she takes the Timber Trails bus.

She says that her volunteering an average of 15 hours per week is important for her emotional health and also beneficial in a way for her children – Nathan, 11, and Manny, 10.

Russell volunteers in the hospital’s emergency department (ED). There, she stocks the ED shelves with patient snacks, checks the ED patients and visitors to see if they need a drink or a warm blanket, assembles lab bags and does other tasks. She likes helping the community that way, she says, and notes that it is also a social outlet for her.

She explained that it also helps her children this way: “I feel more positive about life as a whole (with the volunteering). It helps me to regroup myself and be refreshed for seeing the children. I don’t have to sit (home) and stare at the four walls. I like variety.”

One of Russell’s fellow volunteers and a staff member at the hospital expressed admiration for Russell’s volunteering and of her handling of the job of a single parent, especially since one of Russell’s children has a form of autism.


Russell’s background

Russell is originally from Can Tho, Vietnam, the largest city in the country’s Mekong Delta. Maurice and Dorene Russell, now of Elk River, adopted Dorice when she was just a few weeks shy of age three, Dorice says. Dorice Russell’s 12 years of elementary and high school were in Traer, Iowa, where she graduated.

The family moved to Elk River in about 2004 and Dorice Russell came to Princeton in the summer of 2007.

She contracted polio as a baby in Vietnam, she says, saying that with treatment it has moderated. At about age four or five, she said, she started using a manual wheelchair. Since 1995 she has more consistently used a wheelchair, noting that she can walk limitedly. Russell started volunteering at the hospital after Manny, her youngest son, started first grade. Russell has a personal care attendant – Becky Lindgren – who helps Russell with her needs, including making sure the sons do what Russell tells them to do.

It’s difficult keeping up with the two boys in the electric wheelchair when they run, Russell said, joking that her electric wheelchair should go 10 mph faster than it does.

Russell spoke lovingly of both of the boys, but noted that Manny’s impulsiveness sometimes creates “chaos,” and that it can be trying. Nathan helps even that out, but even Nathan has his limits when he just wants to be left alone, Russell noted.

Getting the two boys to do what Russell tells them goes better “when I am there,” Lindgren said.

The kids’ famous line, according to Lindgren and Russell, is “Why should we do it? You don’t have to do it.” Lindgren says she then tells them that their mother “has physical challenges and you don’t.”

Lindgren noted that Manny also has a unique ability to blend into his environment to make himself almost seem invisible. She told of looking for Manny one day for 20 minutes, only to realize he was standing still in plain sight.

As a lead-up to Mother’s Day, Russell was asked what Nathan and Manny mean to her.

While Manny is a challenge, he is very talented mechanically, Russell said, telling about times that Manny has fixed things for her. One time Russell tried unsuccessfully to hook up two stereo speakers and after Manny fiddled around with the wires for a few minutes, he got the sound going.

“He’s an inventor,” said Lindgren, predicting that if Manny can get the right mentor, he will go a long way in life.

Nathan already has a mentor that is helpful, said Russell, saying  Manny has to want a mentor  before they can seek one for him.

Russell did not want to leave out Nathan’s attributes, “he is very caring, protective and thoughtful,” and helps her “oversee some things I might not necessarily see.” “He also helps with hearing,” Russell said, noting that she is deaf in her right ear.

Russell realizes her physical limitations in pursuing her parenting dreams. She explains that she would love to be able to play basketball, soccer or football with Nathan and Manny, but can’t. Not being able to help with the “physical things boys do need,” is difficult, she said. That’s where having a mentor helps, she said.

Russell, at the same time, says she feels she is a good mother. “I make sure all their basic needs are met and then some,” she said of her sons. “I give them love and discipline. …I am trying to do the best I can with the abilities.”

Lindgren commented on the importance of discipline. “We have to nip it (Manny’s impulsiveness) in the bud now or he is going down a bad road,” Lindgren said.

Lindgren told how they were in a store one day when Manny spied a defective card shuffler that he wanted badly to take home and fix. It was explained to Manny that someone would have to pay for it first and then if he would behave for a week, he could have it.

Lindgren said her husband Jim has helped feed Manny’s need to fix mechanical things. One day Jim, who owns and operates JK Auto at Glendorado west of Princeton, pulled a dashboard off a vehicle and gave it to Manny. Manny was “tickled pink” and somehow got the lights behind the dashboard working again and took it to bed with him like it was a “night light,” Becky said.


Being a mother

Russell was asked what it was like for her to become a mother and what it has been like:

“It’s unexplainable,” she said, answering the first part. It’s something that for me, I felt more whole. It felt like I had a wonderful responsibility to look after the two children. I was kind of in awe. A real neat feeling.”

Nathan and Manny mean “everything in the world to me,” she said about her children. “They are a blessing. I find joy in them. I find they love me unconditionally and I love them unconditionally. They make me laugh…”