Stuart Hall started feeling unwell on March 25, and when things worsened over the week, he chose to go the hospital. On March 29, the 52-year old visited Northside Hospital’s Forsyth campus and got a chest x-ray. Doctors told him there was high likelihood he had coronavirus, but due to a shortage of tests, they were unable to confirm. He was sent home to self quarantine and take medication.
His condition gradually worsened and on April 6, he experienced intense chest pain and had difficulty breathing. His wife, Kellee, drove him back to Northside’s Forsyth campus at 1:00 a.m. on April 7. Their son, 24-year old Grant, accompanied them to the hospital. Their daughters Chandler (22) and Cameron (20) arrived shortly after, and all waited in the hospital parking lot all night.
Doctors quickly intubated Stuart while Kellee sat in the waiting room. Within a half hour, cardiologist Dr. Aman Kakkar came out and told Kellee that Stuart had suffered a heart attack. Kellee gave him permission to insert a stent and pump.
After this surgery, Dr. Kakkar gave an unfortunate update: Stuart had a total blockage in his main artery and, despite the new stent, now had a slim chance of survival largely due to his coronavirus diagnosis and need for a ventilator.
“You could tell Dr. Kakkar just wanted to give me and hug and cry with me,” Kellee said.
The coronavirus pandemic prevented Kellee and her three children from visiting Stuart in the ICU. The Hall family set up a rotating phone schedule to make sure every call from the hospital was answered.
Within 24 hours, the doctors removed Stuart’s heart pump and worked to stabilize him. They rotated him from his back to front throughout the day to drain fluid from his lungs, a process call proning. On Saturday, April 11, Kellee received a call from Stuart’s pulmonary doctor, Dr. Simha Jagadeesh, who said he was hopeful that Stuart would survive.
The following week Stuart had trouble being extubated, but Northside staff kept in close contact with the family. Dr. Huda Sayed, Medical Director of Palliative Care at Northside Hospital, took on the role of point person between ICU staff and patients’ families. She called Kellee several times a day and remained cautiously optimistic about Stuart’s condition.
One of Stuart’s nurses, Melody, printed and displayed a large blue heart in Stuart’s ICU room window, so family visiting the hospital parking lot could see his room and pray for him from afar. Kellee says that poster became a lifeline for her, her children and her husband’s friends and community.
“What they did for us in balancing being our counselors as well as our physicians throughout the process was incredible,” Kellee said.
Monday, April 20 was another hard day for Stuart, when his gastroenterologist found ulcers in his stomach. Through the use of a GI scope, the medical team cauterized his ulcers.
On April 21, Stuart was given a frozen plasma exchange (plasmapheresis) per his nephrologist’s recommendation. Less than 24 hours after the first plasma procedure, Stuart’s health improved dramatically.
“He was a totally different person,” Kellee said. “The next day they did the exchange again, and it was crazy the difference it made. His doctors decided they didn’t even need a third day of the treatment because his outcome was so great.”
On Friday April 24, Stuart was extubated. As his condition improved, Kellee was granted access to visit him in the ICU. On Tuesday April 28, Kellee suited up in full PPE and spent an hour with her husband. Her son, Grant, was concerned about it at first, but Dr. Sayed spoke with him on the phone, walking through the process and answering all his questions until he felt comfortable with his mother’s visit.
The next day, April 29, Stuart moved out of the ICU. On the day of his departure from ICU, staff lined the halls to applaud Stuart’s release.
“Looking back, that moment is a celebration of their hard work more than of me leaving the ICU,” Stuart said. “My case gives them a ray of hope during this time of confusion and hopelessness.”
On April 30, hospital staff saw that despite his departure from the ICU, Stuart still seemed depressed about being in the hospital. Dr. Sayed worked across specialties, including with his floor managers, nurses and physical therapy team to set up an outdoor visit for Stuart, giving him fresh air for the first time in 24 days. During this short outing, Stuart, dressed in full PPE, saw his three children for the first time in weeks.
This short visit proved to be the motivation Stuart’s mental and physical health needed to finish his stay at the hospital. He returned home on May 2, where friends lined the street with signs and well wishes, welcoming him home.
Stuart had each member of the staff sign the blue heart that was posted on his window. He now has it hung up at home so he never forgets what he went through and who was by his side. Today, Stuart does physical therapy and feels great.
“I’m sore and exhausted, but it’s a great kind of exhausted,” he said.
Stuart’s family is continually looking for ways to show their gratitude to the Northside staff. They’ve collected donations and shared meals but believe nothing will equal the care they received.
“We’re trying to do what we can to show them our appreciation, but we’ll never be able to repay the army of people that loved me home,” Stuart said. “The personal risk they’re taking each day boggles the mind. They’re the real heroes in this story, not a survivor like me.”
Stuart hopes his story encourages others to act wisely and trust health care professionals when it comes to their health.
“The quicker you take this virus seriously, the better chance you give yourself,” he said. “If you do go to the hospital, go somewhere you can trust all the doctors and personnel. We were so fortunate that Northside Hospital was the place for us. My family was confident that every person that walked into my room wanted and hoped survival for me, and that made all the difference.”