HOF Coach Gene Dall Recovers From Deadly Case Of COVID-19

Gene Dall can walk again.

He is weak and his steps are measured but he is moving about now without the aid of a walker. While Dall can say that now, there was no certainty that it would be possible while he was lying unconscious in a Corpus Christi, Texas hospital bed in early April after falling victim to CoVid-19.

The former long-time North Rockland High boys track coach suspected he had the virus when he was swabbed on April 8. By the time his suspicions were confirmed on April 10, though, he had taken a turn for the worse and was "going downhill".

Dall, 72, lives in the small town of Kingsville, Texas, where he serves as the assistant track coach at Texas A&M-Kingsville, a Division II powerhouse coached by his son Ryan Dall. While he was aware of what was going on back in his old New York stomping grounds in regards to the virus, he was certainly not prepared for what would happen to him, especially since there have reportedly been, to date, fewer than 20 CoVid-19 cases in his county.

"I went to the local hospital here and I was in the ER for 10 minutes when they took an x-ray and discovered I had pneumonia in the bottom of my left lung," said Dall, who coached at North Rockland for 47 years. "They put me out right away and they sent me to a bigger hospital [in Corpus Christi] but that was the last thing I remember because I was out for three days and was being intubated.

"They said I was pulling the tubes out in the ambulance so they had to intubate me again. They put me out to make sure I didn't do anything destructive to myself."

Dall was unconscious for three days. When he regained consciousness the tubes were removed but he remained on oxygen for more than a week. He returned home after an 11-day hospital stay but was still weak despite receiving anti-body rich plasma while unconscious.

"I couldn't stand," Dall said. "And my taste buds were wacko. That's better now but not 100 percent. Maybe it's 85-percent. Some of the things I eat taste a little off. I tried to eat an orange but it tasted like someone injected it with something super sugary. It's a weird sensation.

"I went from a wheelchair to a walker and over the last five or six days I've been able to ditch the walker but I'm still very weak actually. I lost 20 pounds and a lot of muscle in my legs. I'm going to have to do some lifting and get back to it [working out] but it has gotten better."

Dall's wife, Lonnie, was also one of the confirmed cases in Kleberg County. She had broken her ankle in November and had been making regular doctor visits to Corpus Christi for follow up x-rays. Gene Dall said that on one such visit he and his wife were "crammed in a waiting room" with many other patients and he suspects that is where they contracted the virus.

Lonnie Dall simply self-quarantined - it wasn't difficult since she hadn't been going many places because of her ankle - and she recovered. Her symptoms were never as bad as her husband's and when he went to the hospital on April 10 she was swabbed and officially learned that she had developed antibodies, confirming she had recovered from the virus.

Gene Dall, however, said his immune system was slightly depressed because he is an allergy sufferer and he believes that helped contribute to the severity of his case.

"My temperature never spiked but I was having a hard time breathing," Gene Dall said. "And I only threw up one day in the beginning. The hardest part was waking up. When I woke up and opened my eyes, I thought I had been abducted by aliens. I was half conscious and I looked through the window in my room and saw all these gray people walking around.

"When I completely regained consciousness, I realized they were nurses [in scrubs] but it was a strange few minutes. When they told me I had been unconscious for three days, I didn't believe them because I went into the hospital at night and woke up at 6 p.m. It didn't dawn on me at all but I had the sore throat from the tubes to prove it."

Ryan Dall never worried about contracting the virus himself, though, at least not from his parents. The former New York State and national pole vaulting champion said he really hadn't had much contact with his parents in the weeks leading up to his father falling ill. He did see his father at one point while driving by his house but the two never got close. In fact, Ryan Dall says, in retrospect, he was more worried about becoming ill because he had been at the Division II Indoor Championships in Birmingham prior to his father getting sick.

He was in such close contact with so many people before the meet was canceled that it seemed contracting the virus there was a more likely scenario.

"I was worried about my dad, especially at first, because you hear about all those stories coming out of New York about people on ventilators not waking up," Ryan Dall, 44, said. "So when I heard he was on a ventilator it was scary, especially because we couldn't go there or see him. We would call every day, sometimes twice a day but we didn't know.

"It was scary because we just didn't know what was going to happen. Luckily, with him, every time we called over there we what we heard was pretty positive from the nurses. So that was nice. They did a good job with him. It definitely hit us as a surprise, though, because I think he was just the second official case we had in town."

While the virus impacted the Dall's personally, it had an even greater impact on the school and the town, both of which were set to host the NCAA Division II Championships. The school played host to the event in 2019 and the Dalls were eager to play the part again before the NCAA canceled all spring sports.

The economic impact to the town has been immeasurable.

"It was definitely upsetting," Ryan Dall said. "It made a huge impact for Kingsville last spring. But once they didn't have the indoor meet, I don't think anyone realistically thought we would have an outdoor meet. It's sad."

Ryan Dall said the school hoped the NCAA would simply push its schedule back a year and allow his school to host the event in 2021 but they were denied. The next possible date would be 2023. By then, the hope is there will be a return to normalcy, whatever the new normal will be. That, according to the elder Dall, though, isn't happening anytime soon.

"I think it's going to get worse," Gene Dall said. "We're not anywhere near our peak down here."