Beating the odds on the coronavirus
At age 66, Bill Squires is learning to walk again.
The coronavirus ravaged the body of the veteran sports executive, and at the onset threatened to suffocate him, forcing doctors to place him on a ventilator for almost five agonizing weeks.
Even since being released on June 5, Squires faces a challenging rehab. In addition to rebuilding the strength to walk on his own, he’s training himself to swallow food again. For now, nutrition comes through a feeding tube. He’s being treated each day for lingering bedsores. And he’s lost 35 pounds.
Yet he’s alive. In a pandemic filled with statistics, Squires is a success story behind the numbers, saying he saw firsthand the power of prayer as he fought to survive. “I don’t get through this by myself,” he said.
Squires is well-connected in the sports facility industry, especially in New York. He’s spent more than three decades in the industry, primarily on the operations side, and is a former president of the Stadium Managers Association. He now lectures on sports facility and event management at Columbia University and runs his own consulting firm, counting the New York Giants as a primary client. He’s managed Yankee Stadium, Giants Stadium, ESPN Wide World of Sports and the home of the Cleveland Browns, and consulted on the development of MetLife Stadium.
It was March 16 when Squires knew something wasn’t right. As a precaution, he isolated himself inside his office at his West Orange, N.J., home. His wife, Jodi, would leave him meals on the steps to avoid contact in case he was contagious. By March 26, Squires had stopped eating. He had a nagging cough and fever that he just couldn’t shake.
The Navy veteran just told himself to toughen up, and all would be well. But Jodi thought otherwise and encouraged him to go to the hospital.
Squires tested positive for the coronavirus at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, N.J. With hospitals on lockdown because of the pandemic, he would be on his own, with no visitors. Within a few days, Squires’ oxygen level dropped. He called his wife to update her, ending the conversation by saying, “I’ll be in touch.”
It was the last time Jodi would hear from him for weeks. Doctors put Squires on a ventilator and sedated him. From there, it was an agonizing wait. The family would wake up each morning wondering what the day’s update would bring.
Even though Squires was unable to respond, his family kept pumping in FaceTime messages of encouragement and played some of the 1980s rock songs he enjoys. AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” ZZ Top’s “Gimme All Your Lovin’.” Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days.” Jodi and the couple’s children, Sean, Sydney and Ashley, implored him to keep fighting.
It paid off. On May 2, doctors decided Squires had recovered enough to remove the ventilator. Nothing short of a miracle, they said. A nurse connected Jodi via FaceTime and she saw her groggy husband minus the ventilator tube for the first time. “Everybody loves you; you’re going to be OK,” she said. Squires responded simply with some Navy lingo: “Roger that.”
On May 12, he was transferred to the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, only about 3 miles from his house. Being in bed for so long had weakened him greatly. The first time he attempted to stand, he could stay up only 19 seconds. He remained at the rehab facility for 23 days.
As with the hospital, family was not allowed. By the time he was discharged to return home on June 5, he had gone 70 days without being in the presence of his family. He was thankful for being a miracle that some never found.
The entire experience has made Squires even more grateful for family and friends. As he recovers at home, he’s going back through the hundreds of emails and texts from people who offered their encouragement and prayers throughout the ordeal. He was already easing back into work his first Monday back at home.
He also marvels when thinking back to the many health care workers who watched over him, from the doctors and nurses to those who simply cleaned his room. He remembers those at the hospital who had left their homes in other states, including Tennessee and Kansas, to join the fight against the outbreak. Now that he’s getting better, he wants to do more for them to return the favor.
“I guess the question I continue to ask myself is why was I spared,” he said. “I don’t know why, but I know when you’re given a second chance at life, you just can’t screw it up.”
He sees and hears so much more now, giving himself the time to enjoy everything in life and taking nothing for granted. Like when he went outside for the first time at the rehab facility and listened to the birds singing; they were no longer just background noise. Or now, when Jodi drives him somewhere, he asks her to take detours so he can see even more.
He’s delighted to see the role ESPN Wide World of Sports will play in the industry’s return, given his time managing the 220-acre complex near Orlando.
“I think it is terrific that the NBA and MLS will be using the venues at ESPN Wide World of Sports,” he said. “It is the right location. The venues are terrific and the staff is professional, and they will make sure that the practices and games are managed with precision and attention to detail.”
Squires has circled one date on the calendar: Aug. 13, when the Giants are scheduled to play their first preseason game of the new NFL season. Squires knows by experience the challenges stadiums will face welcoming fans back. But he intends to be one of those walking, on his own, through the gates.
“We put a man on the moon in 1969,” he said. “There’s no reason we can’t figure this out, and I know we will.”