RUSSELL CROWE: REAL-LIFE HERO!

Published on: November 15, 2004

If it wasn't for Russell Crowe, our little boy would be dead!"

Those tearful words of gratitude came from dad Geoff Cox, after "Gladiator" star Russell Crowe's concern for his 5- year-old boy helped the brave tyke survive two bites from one of the world's deadliest snakes.

Not only did the actor fund the local paramedics who rushed to the scene to treat Cox's son, but he also made repeated calls to check on the boy's condition.

"Russell kept calling and asking, 'How's the little fella doing? Give him my best. Tell him to hang in there,'" said Cox.

"My son George was hovering close to death, but whenever he regained consciousness, I kept reminding him, 'The "Gladiator" man wants you to get well!'

"He knows Russell as the 'Gladiator' man from watching his movie, and it melted my heart to see his little face light up when I mentioned that Russell was rooting for him.

"He smiled and said, 'Dad, when I get home, I wanna see the "Gladiator" man!'

"That's when I knew that he was going to make it."

'I'VE BEEN BITTEN'

The terrifying life-or-death drama began when George was bitten twice while playing on the family's property north of Sydney, Australia, October 15.

"My wife Cherie and I had no idea what had happened," recalled his dad, a hotel worker. "He just walked up to us and announced rather nonchalantly, 'Mom, I've been bitten by a snake. I went to pat it on the head and it bit me.'"

George told them it was a common carpet snake, which is not venomous. But neighbor Geoff Hicks, a former paramedic, said they'd better find the snake to be sure, because it might be a deadly brown snake.

"Thank God we did," George's dad said. "What we spotted made our blood run cold--a 5-foot-long brown snake caught in a fence and thrashing about in a blind fury."

They killed the snake and quickly dialed Australia's version of 911. The dispatcher immediately ordered an urgent helicopter evacuation.

TURNED BLUE

"George was sitting down and kept saying, 'I feel O.K.,'" said his father.

"But then, quite suddenly, he changed. His face and lips turned blue.

"Then he slid from the chair, bumping his head on the floor.

"Cherie and I thought we were watching our little boy die in front of us.

"I prayed: 'Please, God, save him!'"

Just then, a woman from Heart Start, the local emergency response group that Crowe has funded with a $50,000 donation, arrived and began first aid.

Moments later, the rescue helicopter touched down and paramedics gave George a shot of steroids to reduce inflammation and a dose of lifesaving antivenin. Then they airlifted the boy to the hospital in Coffs Harbor.

LAPSED INTO COMA

But by the time they reached the medical center, the couple's beloved son was in a coma.

Doctors immediately pumped him full of six vials of antivenin. Then all anyone could do was pray.

"We kept a vigil by George's bedside," said his dad. "He was in a coma, seemingly in a peaceful sleep.

"I prayed and prayed for him to wake up."

URGENT CALL

Crowe, whose ranch is a 10-minute drive from the Cox house, heard about the boy's courageous battle to live while watching the news with his wife Danielle Spencer.

He immediately called Cox's neighbor Hicks to ask about the boy's condition.

"Russell was terribly concerned," said Hicks. "He said, 'Poor kid! I sure hope he gets well. Make sure they do everything possible for him. Tell the family I wish them all the best and am thinking of them. And be sure little George knows I'm hoping he gets well.'"

Hicks relayed Crowe's message to George's dad, who in turn whispered the get-well wishes in his son's ear.

"George was still on the brink of death," said Cox. "I was holding his hand and kept saying, 'The "Gladiator" man wants you to get well.'"

The next morning, a miracle happened.

"George opened his eyes and smiled. I said: 'The "Gladiator" man from the movies has been calling to ask about you.

"He beamed from ear to ear and said, 'Wow!'

"Twenty-four hours after he was bitten, he was sitting up. Doctors said his recovery was amazingly quick. He'd been close to death, but now he was going to be fine."

SAVED HIS LIFE

Crowe called several more times during the four days George was in the hospital and has plans to meet the boy.

"As far as I'm concerned, Russell saved my little boy's life," said the joyful father.

"George didn't want to disappoint his hero--so he fought the poison and won."

--CHRIS PRITCHARD