The last memory Stuart Hall, the father of Gators soccer player Cameron Hall, had from April 6 to April 24 was watching the film “Creed.”
On the night of the 6th, Stuart, who began showing symptoms of COVID-19 on March 25, was taken to the emergency room and started to fight for his life.
“I’ll never forget what he (the cardiologist) said,” Cameron said. “If it was just his heart, I’d give him a 50 percent chance, but with everything going on, I don’t give him much hope.”
Stuart had a heart attack induced by COVID-19. He seemed almost certain to be the next victim COVID-19 would take.
He would remain in the intensive care unit, intubated, for the next 18 days and then remained in the ICU for an additional five days.
During this time, Cameron and her family couldn’t be with him.
“We lived from phone calls every day,” Cameron said. “And that was on an hourly basis of my mom checking in with nurses or the nurse practitioner calling us.”
On April 29, Stuart was taken out of the ICU, and three days later, he was finally released from the hospital.
That day capped off a whirlwind five-week period for the Hall family, when Stuart went from a healthy 52-year-old man to someone whose passing felt inevitable to a person who has a new perspective on life.
Stuart Hall was a person whom few would have expected to be hit by this crippling virus.
Despite that Cameron’s family is from Buford, Georgia, a suburb northeast of Atlanta, Stuart could be seen at nearly every match and scrimmage the team had.
This led to Stuart building a close connection with the Gators soccer program.
“Even though she (Cameron) has only played one year, I do feel like I know her family pretty well,” coach Becky Burleigh said.
That sentiment was shared by goalkeeper Francesca Faraci. The two sophomores have become best friends because they were roommates. Through their friendship, Faraci has become close with the Hall family.
One event sticks out to Faraci that showcases the Halls’ kindness.
Faraci is from Park Ridge, Illinois, outside Chicago, so she did not have the opportunity to come back to campus to move out of her dorm after classes were moved online. Instead, Stuart and Kellee, Stuart’s wife, moved out all of Faraci’s belongings. This is despite, at that point, Stuart beginning to show symptoms of COVID-19.
“It shows a lot about them that they did this for me while starting to show symptoms,” Faraci said.
On March 29, four days after Stuart said he began to experience symptoms, he was taken to the ER after his condition worsened.
“They didn't have enough tests,” Stuart said. “They took an X-ray of my chest and determined that they were about 97 percent sure that my lungs showed all signs of having COVID, so they asked us to go home and self-quarantine in our bedroom.”
Stuart returned home with a prescription for the drug hydroxychloroquine, which the Food and Drug Administration has since said shouldn’t be used outside of a hospital setting.
His condition went downhill fast, according to Kellee.
“His heart was just racing nonstop that whole weekend to the point where I didn’t leave his side because I was so anxious and couldn’t get him to calm down,” Kellee said. “He couldn’t sleep the whole weekend.”
Kellee’s plan was to wait and see until Stuart was done taking the hydroxychloroquine on April 6. While his fever did go away that day, by late afternoon, he had trouble breathing.
Kellee said Stuart didn’t want to go to the hospital because of the fear of intubation and being on a ventilator — and separated from his family.
But, around 1 a.m., Stuart said it was time to go to the emergency room.
“Things happened quickly when we got to the ER,” Kellee said.
He was intubated immediately upon arrival, and the entire Hall family had to leave the ER.
“The first person to talk to me was a cardiologist, and they said that he had a heart attack,” Kellee said. “Two and a half hours later, the cardiologist came back and said his main artery was 100 percent blocked. He also had congestive heart failure as his artery was being blocked.”
Kellee, Cameron and the rest of the Hall family would not see him for another 20 days.
After Stuart went into the hospital, the entire Hall family was tested. Kellee, Cameron, and her two siblings all tested negative despite everyone in the family showing symptoms at one time or another. Stuart suspects that, since he travels for a living — he is the director of student leadership and leadership networking for the ReThink Group and also leads INFLUNSR, an organization whose mission is to fuel the next generation of leaders — he may have gotten a worse strain of COVID-19 than the rest of his family.
The night Stuart was incubated, the first person Cameron contacted was Burleigh.
Burleigh said the two texted each other for a while before Cameron eventually called her.
“I think it shows that we care about not just the player, but the person of everyone in our program,” Burleigh said. “The fact that she trusted us with such personal information at that time like that. That means a lot to me.”
After telling Burleigh, she told Faraci, and then, the rest of the team.
Soon after, her teammates, along with Burleigh, began to post on social media and ask for prayers.
The reaction from Gator Nation was swift, with Hall receiving calls from people all over Gators athletics, including Athletic Director Scott Stricklin.
During the first week of Stuart's hospital stay, Cameron posted daily updates on Twitter and Instagram.
Cameron said she did this because her family needed all the prayers they could get.
“When my Dad was self-quarantining, we didn’t tell anyone, just out of respect for the people who had the virus,” Cameron said. “But then it became ‘we need all hands on deck’ because he's in such a scary state that, if an update on Twitter can get one more prayer on his behalf or on the behalf of the doctors and nurses, then so be it, let's share this personal stuff.”
She added that she also wanted to make people aware that COVID-19 is real and can harm your loved ones.
That philosophy influenced her own coach.
"There's definitely times where I just felt inconvenienced by this disruption. But when you see situations like his, you're like, 'Okay, am I really being inconvenienced?' Like, I can't go to my office, but somebody else is struggling for their life. Let's get some perspective."
Stuart said these posts also highlight the work of the real heroes during this pandemic: the doctors and nurses at Northside Hospital Forsyth who saved his life.
“I think even more so you would post something on social media, just to bring light to the fact that we know these doctors now by name. And, they did, they saved my life. I’m just so grateful for them,” Stuart said with tears in his eyes.
Faraci and Burleigh were also a part of a virtual prayer service held on Saturday, April 11, five days after Stuart went into the hospital.
While Faraci was honored to be on that call, there was one thing she wanted to do.
“It was hard to not give her a hug because Cameron and I always give each other hugs,” she said. “Just let her know ‘it’s okay to be upset’. That was really hard because I couldn’t tell her face-to-face.”
Kellee said, “The love was just through the roof. Becky would text Stuart everyday and just send him positive energy. We even had some of the players send us groceries.”
While all this was happening, Stuart’s condition was still dire. There were good days and bad days that added stress and hardship on Cameron and the whole family.
“The entire process of him being in the ICU was a roller coaster,” Cameron said. “Even when he was in a regular room, we were still like ‘it could change overnight.’ So, until he got home is when I would say, ‘Yeah, ok, we're fine.”
Inside the Hall house, Cameron had to balance having a father in critical condition, along with the responsibilities of being a student.
“It was really hard,” she said. “I had emailed all my teachers, and they were great about giving extensions, but there were days I sat down, and I was like ‘I just can’t write right now.’”
While Cameron dealt with all the stress of being a student, Kellee wished she had more to keep her busy.
“There was nothing else to focus on because everything was shut down. There was no way to get your mind off it,” she said. “We were quarantining because he had it, and we hadn’t been tested yet. We live in a small community, and I just couldn’t handle someone getting sick.”
“And my business was totally shut down because I have a management company, and nobody’s traveling,” she said. “So, we are kind of sitting, staring at each other because we were so scared to get far away because if the phone rang.”
Despite Stuart being unconscious and not being able to talk to anyone, the Hall family still found a way to communicate to him through FaceTime calls.
“The FaceTime to us was everything,” Kellee said.
In addition, one of the nurses put a blue heart on the window of Stuart’s ICU room, so people could see where he was from the parking lot.
“For us, it was a lifeline (the blue heart),” Kellee said. “For our family and our friends, it was like he is. It totally changed the game for us.”
Once Stuart’s room had been identified, friends and family began to visit and give their prayers.
“A few days later, every 30 minutes somebody new for the entire 24 hours would sit in the parking lot and pray for me,” Stuart said.
Eventually, the prayers began to work
On April 24, Stuart was finally extubated for good.
“When I first woke up, I was in such a deep drug-induced medical coma, and while I was in the coma, I literally thought I was part of a drug cartel war. I got stuck in a Tyler Perry sitcom that I couldn’t get out of,” Stuart said. “When I came out of that, I started coming out of a fog, I'm looking out my ICU door at night, and I'm seeing all these doctors and nurses with masks on. I literally thought I was a part of a carnival or Joker, too, because it was just surreal.”
While it may have taken Stuart a little while to figure out what in the world was happening, Cameron just wanted to hear his voice.
“When we FaceTimed him, we thought he could recognize us and remember what we were saying,” she said. “So, the first time we got to hear his voice, it was surreal. Probably the most relieving thing.”
On May 2, he was at long last, back home.
“The first week, I was scared to death,” Kellee said. “So much had gone on with his body that I felt like the last time he was in my care, I almost killed him, and now he is back in my care. But I feel better, and his physical therapy has been going great.”
The physical therapy is incredibly important for Stuart since he went through major changes.
“I lost 30 pounds, and I had to relearn to walk again,” he said. “But our PT doctors have been super encouraged. My lungs are healthy, and my heart is strong, and I’m rocking and rolling, and I can’t wait to hopefully be at Dizney Stadium watching some soccer this fall.”
Burleigh thinks Stuart’s struggle could have a positive effect on the team and how they conduct themselves.
“I think Cameron has a new appreciation on what’s important to her, and I think the people who are close to her have that same idea for sure,” she said. “I think it’s bound to bring us closer together, and we’ve definitely grown as a team for it.”
Burleigh also thinks the team and the coaching staff will take the COVID-19 and the new ways of dealing with it more seriously because of Cameron’s experiences.
Meanwhile, with COVID-19 cases rising throughout the country, including record numbers in Florida and Georgia, Stuart and Cameron are disappointed to see how people are reacting to this.
“Those people who think it’s a conspiracy theory, or it’s not as serious, what I would say personally, is that it is insanely disrespectful to the people who have lost a loved one or to the medical community who are putting their lives on the line every day,” Stuart said. “So, the least we can do is wear a mask and socially distance.”
Cameron said, “I think the frustrating part is seeing a lot of young people, like me, thinking that they’re above the virus and can’t be defeated by it. You may not be killed by it, but you could be asymptomatic and pass it on to a loved one.”
Cameron’s message for those who have lost a loved one is to just hold on to hope.
“I can’t say I woke up everyday being hopeful, but there’s a lot of days where I did, and I think that saved his life and ours, too, because it’s hard.”
Finally, with Father’s Day occurring just a few weeks after Stuart came home, it led to a new perspective from him and Cameron.
“I’m just so thankful because not only is he back physically, but also mentally and emotionally. That is one thing I missed the most because, oftentimes, my dad is my biggest source of encouragement.”
Stuart said, “One of my friends said last week ‘it’s so good to see you,’ and I said ‘It’s good to be seen,’ and he said ‘That’s a lot better than being viewed.’ I’m just grateful to be alive and to give her a word of encouragement or kick in the rear, whatever she needs from me."
Follow Noah on Twitter @Noah_ram1. Contact him at [email protected]