Alabama Man Comes Home After 269 Days in Hospital With COVID

By DONNA THORNTON, The Gadsden Times

SOUTHSIDE, Ala. (AP) — Craig Pruett was hospitalized in August with COVID-19. On May 9 — after 269 days of care, including more than 200 on a ventilator — Pruett made it home.

It was an exciting day, as Pruett, a senior special agent with ALEA’s State Bureau of Investigations, got a full law enforcement escort and a welcoming party in downtown Southside on the way home.

The “long and rough journey” is far from over, Sara Pruett said. Her husband’s recovery will continue for some time.

The numbers tell some of the story: 269 days in hospital; 213 days on a ventilator; 90 lost pounds (or half Pruett’s normal weight of 180); at least two months that Pruett can’t remember.

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In between were missed birthdays for family and friends, school milestones and holidays. Sara Pruett missed some, too, as her husband’s sometimes precarious condition required she be at his side.

It began on Aug. 3, 2021.

The Pruetts had just come home from a beach vacation on Aug. 3, 2021, when Craig Pruett noticed he had some sinus issues. He then went to Nashville to perform with The Robert Abernathy Band. They’d been writing and playing music together for about 30 years, with Pruett on drums.

On the way back, Pruett said he was feeling sick. But by the weekend, he was feeling better. “He got out and mowed the lawn,” his wife said.

But the next day, he felt worse, she said. A chest X-ray showed he had pneumonia.

By Aug. 13, Pruett couldn’t breathe. His oxygen level dropped to the 60s. Paramedics took him to Riverview Regional’s ER, and he was soon admitted to the COVID-19 unit.

“I don’t remember anything after that. They had to suffer through that misery,” Pruett said of his wife and their blended family of six children. He said it was like he was in a dream that he couldn’t wake up from, where he was being treated for COVID.

Once admitted, Pruett’s condition worsened quickly. He went from the COVID unit to Cardiac Intensive Care, and at 1 a.m. on Aug. 23, Sara Pruett got a call.

“They had no choice but to put him on a ventilator,” she said. His oxygen levels were dropping, and without it, they were afraid he would code. He would be on and off the ventilator for months.

Lia Pruett said she and her brothers, Bryson and Cory, didn’t hear their father’s voice for six months. The first time they got to see him was Sept. 27, 2021, when doctors called in the family to say goodbye.

But nobody was ready to give up. Nobody said goodbye.

“I’m glad they didn’t,” Pruett said.

Pruett made slow improvements from there, his wife said. In October, doctors tried to wake him up from the four or five sedation drugs he was given. At one point as they were waking him, his heart stopped. Pruett coded, and it took the team four minutes to get his heartbeat and breathing back.

For six weeks after he was admitted, Sara Pruett couldn’t see him. “We managed to get the supervisor to sneak me in at exactly six weeks,” she said.

That was a couple of days before the first time they thought they were losing him.

“They snuck me in again for our anniversary. He was on sedation,” she said. “I stood there and held his hand on our fifth-year anniversary.”

Craig Pruett doesn’t remember all of the ups and downs. But he remembers nurses holding the phone and Sara talking to him via FaceTime. “If she hadn’t been there with me, offering her support, I don’t think I could have made it.”

Many of the turning points occurred at or near milestones in the family’s lives. Craig Pruett tested positive for COVID on his stepdaughter’s 18th birthday. They had a big party planned, but he and Sara didn’t get to see her for it.

He went into the hospital three days before his 47th birthday — Lia said they had to send gifts through the hospital staff.

The day doctors called them in to say goodbye was the day after Bryson’s birthday, and he coded on Lia’s birthday, Oct. 25. On Cory’s birthday, Oct. 29, Pruett’s lungs collapsed.

During the hospitalization and the time on the ventilator, Pruett missed other big events: Cory starting middle school, all of the holidays, all the birthdays for family and friends. Sara said she missed her daughter Kaitlyn’s first day of school.

“I’d never missed a first day, and I missed her last first day,” Sara said. She said Kaitlyn served as Battalion Commander in JROTC, and her husband missed those related activities. “All the senior year stuff — you just can’t get that back,” she said. “But he’s making it to graduation.”

The family also went from two incomes to one, as Sara Pruett has become a full-time caregiver. Friends established a GoFundMe account to help the Pruetts. She said they had an outpouring of support during his illness, and amazing caregivers at the hospital.


Through it all, it was hard not to be discouraged, family members said.

“I found myself sometimes expecting the worst,” said Lia, whose family and boyfriend rallied around her, telling her Pruett would make it, even as she thought, “I don’t see how he could.”

That was tough for all the kids. “Your dad, he’s like your hero,” Lia said. “He’s strong. It’s hard to look at him in this state.

“But I don’t look at him and see weak. He’s as strong as all get-out,” she said. “He has to be to pull through this.”

She said being able to hear his voice again was an emotional moment for her, and there were others. While he still was sedated, she said, she was talking to him, telling him about the cats, and she saw him smile. “I thought, ‘he’s here,’” Lia said.

Pruett spent the past few weeks at Encompass Healthcare Rehabilitation Hospital working to regain strength to prepare for going home. When he left, exiting through a parade of cheering healthcare workers and greeted by friends and family outside, Jennifer Poole, director of Riverview Regional’s Heart and Vascular Center, was one of those to wish him well.

“He beat the odds,” Poole said. “He’s our miracle.”

Coming home, Pruett will be using oxygen, and he still has a trach tube in as a precaution. He’s gained weight and is up to about 120 pounds, he said. “I can do things now I couldn’t do three weeks ago.”

He’s going to continue his rehab, working to get his heart stronger so his lungs will work better. And he has to build his strength back up: “I lost 50 pounds of muscle,” he said.

Pruett said it would be great to be walking on his own by Christmas, but he’s taking the continuing recovery one step at a time, day by day.

“I know it’s up to me,” he said.

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