FLINT, MI — John Hall said his wife, Laura, was perfectly healthy before her heart attack and COVID-19 diagnosis.
They had already escaped the coronavirus once this year, on a cruise ship while national borders closed around the world. But their second encounter with the virus would prove almost fatal.
Laura Hall, 55, went into cardiac arrest in the driveway of the couple’s Thetford Township home the morning of July 29. John Hall performed CPR on Laura for around 30 minutes before an ambulance could make it to their home.
When she arrived at McLaren Flint, hospital staff tested her for COVID-19. She tested negative. Later, she was air lifted to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where Hall said she tested positive for the virus. Doctors tell him COVID-19 attacked his wife’s heart.
After two weeks in a medically induced coma, her life in the balance, Laura opened her eyes Sunday, Aug. 9, the day of her husband’s 56th birthday.
“People often say, ‘If only I could speak to that person one more time,’” Hall said. “I thought, ‘Man, I got it. I got that perfect gift that everyone dreams of. I got to speak to that person at least one more time.’”
Laura Hall biked an average of 20-30 miles per day and adhered to a strict vegan diet before the heart attack. She had surgery on her gallbladder back in January but, other than that, has been healthy her whole life, Hall said.
“She just really takes care of herself and that’s what surprised us so much,” he said. “We’d just heard so much about it affecting the elderly or people with preexisting conditions. You hear all these things but here you’ve got someone who is very, very healthy, has no preexisting whatsoever, there’s no history of heart disease in her family, nothing.”
Doctors told Hall COVID-19 can create inflammation in different areas of the body. For Laura hall, COVID-19 attacked her heart rather than her lungs, which is more common. The first thing the doctors checked for when she was admitted to the hospital was blockage in her arteries. They found none. They checked if she had had a stroke, but found she had not. The only thing doctors could find was inflammation in the heart.
This is not the couple’s first life-altering experience with COVID-19. In March, they were quarantined on the Italian Costa Luminosa cruise ship as coronavirus cases spiked across the globe.
A Fort Lauderdale-based ship from Italian company Costa Cruises was denied permission to disembark its more than 1,400 passengers in Spain after the government decided to close the country’s ports to passenger traffic, according to the Associated Press.
After weeks of quarantine on international waters, the Halls made it back to the U.S. March 20, underwent testing by the CDC and were cleared. They caught a flight from Atlanta to Flint and quarantined for two weeks.
“During that 15 days, neither one of us got sick, neither one of us had any symptoms,” John Hall said.
They live in Hall’s family home in northern Genesee County and continued to isolate after the two weeks of quarantine. When they would go into town, Hall said they always wore masks.
“It seemed to us that we had made all of the right decisions, but evidently, somehow, Laura ended up getting COVID-19 anyway,” Hall said.
Take COVID-19 seriously, Hall said. The virus has become political and people are losing sight of the fact that it can affect anyone, he added.
“You still should do everything that you possibly can in order to protect your loved ones and your family and the people in the community you care about. We can all take that little extra step to make sure everyone is safer,” he said. “It’s simply the right thing to do.”
The heart attack
Laura Hall was working in the garden the day of the heart attack. John Hall asked if she would like to go into town with him to run some errands. After initially saying no, she changed her mind and jogged out to the car.
As Hall backed out of the garage to turn around toward the road, he said he noticed something was wrong. At first, he thought his wife had choked on something.
In the mid-’80s Hall was a combat medic in the Army.
“Somehow, thank God, those skills snapped into play,” he said.
He checked her airway and pulse. She had no pulse, so Hall pulled her out of the car, started CPR and called 911 around 10:25 a.m. July 29. Hall said he knew their Thetford Township home was a long way away from the paramedics, so he continued CPR.
“It was a frightening moment as we tried to work through that,” he said.
About 15 minutes into performing CPR on his wife, Hall said her eyes opened. In that brief moment he said she took three or four breaths of air before fading again. It took about 30 minutes for the ambulance to arrive, Hall noted.
Laura Hall was first treated at McLaren Flint, but her health worsened. She was eventually air evacuated to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit where she was tested again for COVID-19 and was found to be positive.
“I would say the medical staff was beyond fantastic,” John Hall said. “They really, really took incredible care of Laura. They became her advocate. They would call me any time of the day or night and they have reached out. Even though she’s at Henry Ford Hospital now, they’re still following her and cheering her on.”
Some of the medical staff that first treated Laura were the Hall’s former students. Both John and Laura Hall taught at Kearsley Community Schools for a while. Both left teaching on and off for military deployments. Laura Hall joined the Peace Corps in 2016. She taught English in Ukraine for a year. When she came back, she started working in the guidance office at the University of Michigan.
The outpouring of support over the past few weeks shows how many lives Laura Hall impacted, Hall said.
“It’s truly wonderful to realize you teach students, you have a room full of them and you hope they’ll grow up and do wonderful things and make a difference in the world. It’s wonderful to see it first-hand and to see them in action to see how remarkable of people our students become when they become adults. Good, caring, honest, hardworking people who care about their profession and care about the people they’re working with. That’s all you can hope for, right?”
Laura Hall has a long way to recovery, Hall said. They have fears of hypoxia as her brain was without oxygen for a long period of time.
Hall said doctors and nurses have told him her recovery thus far has been incredible. A cardiologist told him it is very rare for someone to survive a cardiac arrest similar to Laura’s. She will likely be in the hospital for at least another month.
Hall was able to speak with Laura over the phone. One of the the first things she said to him was “What’s wrong with these people?” as she looked out of her window at Henry Ford Hospital. She said she could see crowds of people walking around.
“Don’t they realize how serious this is,” she said, referring to the dangers of COVID-19.
He said she told him she doesn’t want to see others go through the same thing she did.
“I just thought it was so powerful, hearing it from someone who frankly had died of it and was brought back to us,” Hall said.
Hall said his daughters worried he would contract COVID-19. He had been isolated since the last time he saw Laura. Tuesday, Aug. 11, marked two weeks and Hall said he has not yet shown symptoms.
Laura Hall retired just before Christmas last year.
“I thought a fantastic gift would be to plan an around-the-world trip so we put together a couple of different cruises along with plane rides, train rides – trains planes and automobiles, if you will – to take this fun journey all the way around the world,” Hall said.
The couple left out of Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 24, taking a long lap around the Caribbean on a cruise. On March 5, they landed back in the U.S. for a stopover.
At that point they had heard “rumblings” about the coronavirus in the United States but, like many, nothing concrete on the severity of the virus.
“The questions we asked ourselves was of course ‘Should we continue the cruise?’ So we talked to the cruise line and they were like ‘Oh yeah, everything’s OK, you’ll be all right,’” Hall said. “We looked at CNN, we looked at Fox News, we looked at BBC because we like to look at the spectrum of what’s going on. All the news agencies seemed to be saying ‘Yeah, it’s good to go on.’ So we got back on the boat to cross the Atlantic.”
On March 5, they decided to extend their cruise and reached San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 8. After landing, Hall said he walked down to the coast guard station to see what was going on in the U.S.
“Again, there was really nothing definitive in the United States,” he said. “There had been no lockdowns or anything clear by that point. We were trying to decide if we should get off and go but again we were assured by everyone everything would be safe.”
Two days later, the cruise was supposed to stop in St. John’s, Antigua.
“We noticed as our cruise ship approached it, it held up in the water before continuing on past the island,” he said. “We were told as we pulled away our access had been denied to that island because someone on board of our ship had coronavirus.”
They learned on the cruise’s warmup lap in Grand Cayman, a man from Italy got off the boat to get tested.
“They found out he tested positive just as we left San Juan and he had died that next day,” Hall said.
Next, the cruise approached the Canary Islands, which first denied access. Eventually, the ship was allowed to pull up to refuel. After a couple of hours of fueling the ship, Hall said cruise passengers were told to return to their rooms. From then on, passengers were quarantined to their cabins.
“A cruise ship cabin is nice to stop into – not the best place to spend the next long, long period of time,” Hall said.
The couple had a cabin in the very bottom of the ship. Hall said they found out the cruise had offloaded more sick people at the Canary Islands who had later died of the coronavirus as well.
“At that point, it’s starting to get very sad on the ship,” Hall said. “We’d had a few casualties.”
The next stop was supposed to be in Spain on March 18.
“Spain said, ‘No, you can’t come here,’” Hall recalled.
The end of the trip was supposed to be in Venice, Italy, on March 25. By then, Italy was totally shut down, he said. There was no way the ship would make it there.
They pulled into the border of Marseilles, France March 20. By then France had shut down. They learned the U.S. had shut down, too.
“We were seeing the whole world shut down around us and international travel had been canceled for everybody,” Hall said.
At this point the Americans and Canadians on the cruise were allowed to get off the ship and fly back. Clad in gloves and masks, they flew home in a single charter plane planted in the middle of the runway at the Marseilles airport, which Hall observed would normally be packed with travelers.
“It was quite a journey home,” Hall said. “We had some very, very sick people on the airplane.”
Nurses on board took care of sick people through the eight-hour flight. Once they landed, all passengers had to go through a thorough CDC screening.
‘It can truly impact anybody’
The couple never thought COVID-19 would affect their lives so drastically.
“I think (Laura’s) processing that, and it’s important to her that people understand that if a healthy 55-year-old woman who eats right and lives the right way can get seriously impacted by this, it can truly impact anybody,” Hall said. “We’re worried about our friends and family and everyone, really.”
Hall said he and Laura have lived their lives fully and tried to live without regret.
“You always think you’ll be prepared for when the time comes, but it’s pretty shocking when it comes and you have two seconds, literally two seconds, to look at someone who’s alive and doing well and then you look at them and they are simply not there anymore,” he said. “I will tell you there is nothing quite so frightening as to be performing CPR on someone for a long period of time that you’ve spent most of your life with.”
He said that was the moment he realized his action in that would determine if his wife lived another day.
“It was the drive to try to make another moment happen,” Hall said.
It is a reminder to cherish the time you have with people, he said. COVID-19 drives that home, too.
The couple planned to move to Colorado the day after Laura had the heart attack. Hall had a new job lined up with the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The move was part of when Laura had been mountain biking so much.
“She’ll get her health back and we’ll still go on those adventures together down the road,” he said. “That time is what’s so very, very valuable.”