Coronavirus nearly took A’s coach’s life, but it couldn’t stop the wedding

Coronavirus nearly took A’s coach’s life, but it couldn’t stop the wedding


When Webster Garrison and Nikki Trudeaux called for an ambulance on March 25, the EMTs didn’t know which of them to take.

Both had COVID-19 and were breathing poorly, with oxygen levels reading well below what is considered safe.

“I said, ‘No, my love first,’” said Nikki, who is now Trudeaux Garrison after marrying the A’s minor-league coach in the New Orleans-area hospital in July.

“There was no way I was going in. In hindsight, it was really crazy. I don’t want to think about what could have happened to me there alone, that sick. But I didn’t want to be on a ventilator while Webster was on a ventilator if decisions had to be made. Maybe the doctors would have made him a Do-Not-Resuscitate and I would have had no say so-so. “

That clarity of mind, even in the midst of what turned out to be COVID-caused double pneumonia, might have saved Garrison’s life, because when things took a turn for the worse and doctors advised her that they’d need DNR instructions, she declined.

Garrison, 55, is back in the hospital after requiring four more days on a ventilator last week, and Friday, in her first interview, Trudeaux Garrison detailed for The Chronicle the harrowing journey that has left one of the A’s most beloved minor-league staff members fighting for his life. She has always maintained hope, even when the doctors said that things looked bleak.

“They said, ‘It doesn’t look that good, and I said, ‘Absolutely not. Webster is a fighter. I know my love. He won’t give up,’ ” she said. “He coded twice and they brought him back, or he wouldn’t be here right now.”

Garrison’s kidneys, which the disease shut down, are showing signs of improvement. But the former A’s player and onetime minor-league manager remains paralyzed on his left side after incurring two strokes in April while on a ventilator. Trudeaux Garrison, a nurse and teacher at a nursing college, diagnosed the strokes via FaceTime. She noticed that as his sedative was reduced, only his right side was moving, and she told the nursing staff something was wrong. A scan confirmed the strokes, and she is now preparing to become a full-time caregiver.

Trudeaux Garrison hopes he will return to the rehab facility next week, with the possibility of coming home in a month or so. She is preparing by looking for a place that is wheelchair-accessible and a vehicle to transport Garrison to the three-times-weekly dialysis he now requires.

Garrison was not among the majority of the A’s minor-league staff who were furloughed, and the couple is relying on his wages as their main source of income. Trudeaux Garrison said the additional expenses required to move and the need for equipment has stretched their finances to the point that a friend set up a GoFundMe page.

Garrison and his wife had been partners for about 10 years before deciding to get married at the hospital — a bright spot in an otherwise dark time for the family. Several friends and relatives have died during this coronavirus crisis, including Trudeaux Garrison’s mother, who had lung cancer, and the couple’s good friend, Mark Hall, a police officer who died of COVID-19 a few rooms away from Garrison’s in the hospital.

The couple had planned to be married June 6, so once Garrison was off the ventilator and improving, he suggested they go ahead and tie the knot on July 16.

“We don’t know what tomorrow holds, so he said, ‘I want you to be Mrs. Garrison right now,’ and I said, ‘I want to, too,’ ” Trudeaux Garrison said. “We called our pastor, he was very familiar with us and he said, ‘Let’s do it, of course,’ he knew our whole story. We didn’t want to wait another second.”

They assumed it would be a bedside ceremony with one or two visitors because of the virus restrictions, but the hospital surprised the couple by making the chapel available, filling it with flowers and allowing several other relatives in for the event.

Now, Garrison is trying to focus on getting back to baseball, which he misses terribly. He’s able to talk some, his voice scratchy, and he wants people to know he’s feeling great and that the A’s have been “fantastic,” especially Nancy Moriuchi, the team’s coordinator of player development; minor-league medical coordinator Nate Brooks; and team physician Dr. Fred Dicke, all of whom texted and called daily, and general manager David Forst checked in regularly. Minor-league reporter and photographer Kim Contreras helped with organizing a video that included many of the team’s players and staff.

“Our whole lives are changed. But we won’t let it beat us down, we take it one day a time and we pray a whole lot. I can’t tell you how much prayer and all the support of everyone — the A’s, the baseball world, family, friends, people we don’t even know,” Trudeaux Garrison said. “Every player, coach — my inbox is flooded. I wish I could answer them all. Webster has always been so modest, but the number of people who reached out and who care and love him is overwhelming. The grace of God has brought us all that and is shining down on us and getting through this.”

Trudeaux Garrison said the couple has no idea how they caught the coronavirus. Neither had underlying medical conditions; Garrison had just passed his annual team physical. New Orleans was hit hard by the virus in March, but the couple was being cautious. Perhaps it was traveling by air back from Phoenix when baseball was halted, maybe at the store, at the gas station. “Who knows?” she said.

She still has no sense of smell or taste and has occasional shortness of breath, while Garrison could be looking at a long road of recovery or major lifelong physical challenges. So for those who do not take the virus seriously, those who are anti-mask, those who propose herd immunity, she’d like them to know this story.

“It’s really not a joke,” Trudeaux Garrison said. “Webby just wants to be able to get up and wash his hands and he can’t do that.”

Upon hearing that, Garrison, who also was on the call, added, “Scramble eggs!”

“People take those things for granted,” she said, her voice cracking. “We’re fighting just to get Webby back home and then figure out how to get by, how to make it. People who aren’t taking this seriously, it breaks my heart knowing what they could go through, or someone else they pass it along to. I would hate for anyone to have to go through what we have to go through.”

There are some good signs, even amid setbacks. Garrison’s feeling is returning on his left side, and he no longer requires a feeding tube.

“Him being an athlete — his willpower is so strong,” Trudeaux Garrison said. “With the proper care, he will be able to get through it. We’re learning every day, I’ve been a nurse for 20 years, but this is the love of my life, my soul mate, and I have to remove myself from that nurse role sometimes and just be a supporter. It’s been hard for both of us, but we’re going to get through it. And I will be right at his side, making sure he comes back Webby Strong.”

Susan Slusser is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @susanslusser



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