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Rady Children’s Hospital manager puts retirement on hold for return

One year ago, Sue Cox retired from a 34-year career with Rady Children’s Hospital, where she had worked in a variety of positions, from a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit to director of the trauma program.

Today, she is back at the hospital, working as hard as ever, “which was not really the vision,” she conceded.

But when her phone rang in August, and hospital officials asked her to return on an interim basis to manage the hematology/oncology unit, she said “yes.”

“It would have been really easy to say, ‘No, thank you, I’m retired, find somebody else,” said Cox, who was 67 when she retired in January 2014. “But I passionately care about this place and the people in it.”

So Cox went back to work after eight months of retirement, managing a unit that was new to her. The hospital wanted someone who was familiar to the organization to take the place of another manager who had resigned abruptly.

After she took on the hematology/oncology assignment, officials later asked her to also serve as interim director of the hospital’s acute cardiac unit. The hospital is working to fill both managerial posts, and Cox has agreed to delay her retirement until permanent replacements are found.

She said it wasn’t too difficult to go back to work because she hadn’t been out of the routine too long.

“My car would automatically drive to Children’s whenever I headed west,” she said.

Retirement for Cox didn’t mean slowing down. She volunteered as a delivery driver for Meals on Wheels, and as a “cuddler” at the Children’s intensive care unit. She also indulged in her hobby of quilting, traveled across Canada by train and cruised the Danube River in Europe with her husband of 46 years, Conrad Cox, a retired grocer.

“I was having a great time,” she said.

While she hopes to return to her volunteer work and travel in the near future, for now she’s committed to managing the two units at Children’s.

Cox, who has worked her entire professional career at Children’s, entered nursing after a stint in the U.S. Air Force right out of high school. She comes from a long line of nurses, including her mother and aunts on both sides of her family.

After leaving the military, she and her husband moved to San Diego and she attended nursing school at San Diego State University, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing.

Among the accomplishments she is proudest of, said Cox, is her work to help establish the pediatric trauma system in San Diego, and also her role with a federal team that responds to emergencies.

She and her fellow disaster team members become federal employees when the team is activated, which it has been for such incidents as the Northridge earthquake in 1994 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Cox remains the team’s chief nurse, and is available to serve if needed.

Satisfying as it has been to serve as an administrator and mentor at Children’s, Cox said, she has found it equally rewarding to make a difference in the lives of patients and their families.

She recalled being approached by a man after speaking about the trauma program at a Lions Club meeting in East County. The man said she had helped care for his son, who had been badly injured in a car accident decades earlier. The boy had grown up to become a psychologist and live a happy, healthy life, the man told Cox.

When she returned to the hospital, she showed a photo of the now-grown-up boy to a doctor who had also cared for the young accident victim.

“Both of us felt so good about that,” she said.

Cox, who has three grown children, said her husband wasn’t too surprised with her decision to put off her retirement for a bit longer.

“He was fine with it,” she said. “He’s been very supportive of me no matter what I wanted to do in my life. We complement each other very well.”


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