Prayers, luck and intensive care: How one man survived COVID-19
BY AMBER SMITH
He got sick right after Christmas. He was on a ventilator for three weeks in an intensive care unit at Upstate University Hospital. When he was discharged, he was 60 pounds lighter, tethered to oxygen and required assistance to walk. Bill Croft sees himself as one of the lucky ones. “Lucky, in that I didn’t die from COVID,” he says.
Croft is a retired Syracuse police officer who works for the Syracuse Downtown Committee, patrolling on foot in the evenings. He has asthma, so he was cautious since the start of the pandemic. “I knew if I got COVID, I was in trouble.”
He says he was exposed on Dec. 27, 2020, when an officer stopped into the committee office. At the end of the conversation, the officer mentioned getting tested for COVID-19. Results later came back positive. Croft and two coworkers had been exposed. All developed symptoms a week and a half later.
Croft’s wife, Melissa Croft, also tested positive. She has lupus, a chronic autoimmune condition that puts her at greater risk for a severe case of COVID-19. His daughter Lizzie, 19, also got sick. Caring for the family was Lynda, 22, who had already had COVID-19. Arden, 25, who lives in Buffalo, was spared
Five days after Bill tested positive, a contact tracer called. Bill coughed during the call, and Melissa says it seemed like the house shook with each cough. The contact tracer said his cough was the worst she had heard, “and I’ve talked to 1,000 people with COVID.” She summoned her supervisor, who dialed 911.
Croft’s wife, Melissa Croft, also tested positive. She has lupus, a chronic autoimmune condition that puts her at greater risk for a severe case of COVID-19. His daughter Lizzie, 19, also got sick. Caring for the family was Lynda, 22, who had already had COVID-19. Arden, 25, who lives in Buffalo, was spared.
An ambulance arrived soon after and took Bill Croft from his home in Geddes to Upstate in downtown Syracuse. His family wasn’t sure they would see him again.
Melissa Croft remembers feeling distraught. “When someone gets COVID and ends up in the hospital, they’re taken away from you. You can’t be with them. You can’t hold their hand. You can’t do anything,” she says. “And no one ever expects them to say, ‘Your husband is on life support in critical condition.”
She called about five times a day to check on him. She started at 5 a.m., to talk to the caregivers from overnight. Later she talked with the nurses caring for her husband during the day, and again later at night.
Melissa and the children spoke with Bill via iPad. There was no crying, no visible fear. They would talk about good things that were happening. They would pray. They would stay strong.
He was put on a ventilator a few days after his arrival. He developed pneumonia and underwent a procedure to remove a mucous plug. He was removed from the ventilator two days before he turned 51. He awoke on his birthday, Feb. 7, to see the staff had decorated his hospital room. Several days later, he was moved from the intensive care unit to a regular hospital room.
“The nursing staff and the doctors, they were phenomenal,” he recalls. “As horrible as it was being there, they made it just enough un-horrible for me.”
The first day Melissa was allowed to visit, Bill pulled her close to ask: “Why am I in the hospital? What happened to me?” His legs were so weak he couldn’t move them, and he feared he had broken them in a car wreck or something.
Soon he transferred into an area dedicated to rehabilitation. He had a setback when his right lung collapsed. He ended up back in intensive care. It was scary. Bill remembers a particular nurse. “She sat with me, holding my hand and calming me down, for an hour. She saved me. Mentally, it was terrifying.”
When he was able to be discharged, Bill needed a hospital bed at his house. He relied on a walker, and he was tethered to an oxygen tank device. Coworker friends were there to greet him, having shoveled the snow from his walkway and provided meals for his family all the while he was hospitalized. For a month, physical therapists and occupational therapists came to his home for sessions. He rode a stationary bike for exercise and took walks in his neighborhood. He followed up with Ioana Amzuta, MD, a pulmonologist at Upstate. By July, even though he still required supplemental oxygen while he slept, Amzuta said he could return to work.
“There are so many people right now who had COVID much less than I did, and they still can’t work. They have symptoms — neuropathy, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues or migraines — and they still can’t work,” Bill says.
Returning to a job he loves, Bill got teary with appreciation.