Crossville Family Had Three Members in ICU for COVID-19 at Once

While Cookeville Regional has cared for many COVID-19 patients since the virus started affecting the Upper Cumberland earlier this year, one Crossville family had three members being treated in the intensive care unit (ICU) at the same time.


One day in March, Jeff Garrison went to visit his parents, Dillon and Ellen Garrison, at their home and found them exhausted, dehydrated and delirious with high fevers. He called 911, and they were taken to a nearby facility for treatment. Dillon was given fluids and antibiotics and sent home, and Ellen stayed for a couple of days before being sent home with oxygen on a Friday.


By Sunday, March 29, Ellen’s oxygen level was down to 78, and she still had a high fever.


“I could barely keep either of them awake, and they were barely cognizant,” said Jeff ’s wife, Rose. “We tried everything to get them to eat and could only get them to eat maybe a cracker.”


Jeff and Rose drove Ellen and Dillon to Cookeville Regional. Ellen was immediately placed on a ventilator, as was Dillon two days later. Soon after, Jeff began to get sick. Although two COVID-19 tests were negative, a chest X-ray showed that he likely had the virus.


“Jeff went to the ICU, and we thought he would be placed on a ventilator at one point, but he was not,” said Rose. “He was right across from Dad, so we had the whole bunch up there.”


And, although Rose never had symptoms, she tested positive for COVID-19 and quarantined herself for a month at home.


Angela Craig, the clinical coordinator in the ICU who was involved in the Garrisons’ care, made FaceTime calls to Rose and her stepdaughter, Jessica McCaleb, every day to update them on the family’s condition.


“She would take a protected iPad into the unit and let us see them and would talk to us and give us all the stats,” said Rose, who has been a nurse for many years. “Having the daily conversations with Angela was the only thing that got me through it,” said McCaleb. “My grandparents raised me, and they’re everything to me.”


Fortunately, Jeff was discharged after only a few days. Ellen was on the ventilator for 23 days before she was able to recover. She left CRMC on May 29 and was in rehab until July 17. Dillon had a much more difficult time. The family received calls three different times telling them that he might not make it through the night.


“Angela cried right along with us,” said Rose. “We got to know several nurses, and now I tell everybody here at home, if you’ve got COVID-19, you need to go to Cookeville.”


Dillon had been on the ventilator for 43 days when his trachea had deterioriated to the point that he needed a tracheostomy, a procedure in which a breathing tube is placed through an incision in the neck. However, his do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders forbade that procedure.


“Dr. Rupan told us he had worked really hard to save Dad and wondered if he would be willing to reverse the DNR so that he could give him a tracheostomy,” said Rose. “So, we went down there and put on gear — it looked like we were going to the moon — and went to his bedside, with the staff witnessing through the window, and Dad agreed to reverse his own DNR.”


The staff at Cookeville Regional tried many different and innovative treatments during Dillon’s stay to try to help him recover, and finally, he did.


“We tried basically everything we could think of,” said Dr. Rebecca Sprouse, a CRMC hospitalist who has been very involved in the care of COVID-19 patients. “The problem with giving someone that many treatments at the same time is that I can’t tell you specifically what made him better, but one of the things we gave him did.”


He was released on May 21 and did five weeks in rehab, returning home on Aug. 27, more than a month after Ellen.


“I definitely am glad to be alive,” said Ellen. “I couldn’t wait to get home, and then, when I got home, I couldn’t wait for Pa to get here.”


Dillon, Ellen and Jeff are still struggling with various health issues caused by the virus, but they are recovering little by little.


“I am well pleased with everyone who took care of me and got me this far,” said Dillon. “I just wanted to get home, sit on the porch, drink coffee and eat a donut.”