NHRA mechanic who has inspired many during coronavirus recovery discharged from UAB Hospital

Jock Allen, a 28-year-old from Jasper, Alabama, has captured the spirits of many across Alabama and beyond since he was admitted to UAB Hospital last month.
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Videography: Carson Young, Steve Wood and Andrea Reiber

Ervin “Jock” Allen spent the past 32 days in this hospital at the University of Alabama at Birmingham battling COVID-19, including 24 of those days on a ventilator. Today, Allen breathes on his own. And he is going home to continue his recovery.

Allen, a 28-year-old Jasper, Alabama, native and lead technician for NHRA Birmingham-based Steve Johnson Racing, has captured the spirits of many across Alabama and beyond since he was admitted to UAB Hospital last month — because of both his own journey and that of his family. His mom, Candace Allen, a health care worker, was admitted to the hospital prior to her son after contracting COVID-19. She passed away May 18. Allen’s sister (also a health care worker), brother and fiancée also tested positive, but have since recovered. 

“When I get home, I just want to get outside and feel some fresh air,” he said. “It’s been a scary, happy and sad experience all at once. It’s a blessing that I get to walk out of here and start my new journey.”

With Allen’s permission, Johnson has been chronicling his teammate’s journey on the Steve Johnson Racing Team Facebook page. Allen has developed a legion of fans and supporters in the tens of thousands that includes the motorsports community — which set up a GoFundMe page to help with the family’s growing expenses as they battled COVID-19 — and beyond. A JockStrong.com webpage complete with #JockStrong branded T-shirts and masks also was established to help the family.  

Allen spent a considerable portion of his time at UAB on the Medical Intensive Care Unit. It is there where the sickest COVID-19 patients are treated and where the majority of them often are on ventilators. Some, like Allen, are ventilated for longer than 21 days — a dangerous threshold for recovery.  

Allen4For UAB’s staff in the MICU, Special Care Unit and other critical care areas, watching Allen leave the hospital healthy and with a chance to resume his life lifts their spirits. Photography: Steve Wood “Less than 10 percent of all patients who have to be put on a ventilator end up staying on it more than 21 days,” said James Stout, director of Quality Assurance and Patient Safety in UAB’s Special Care Unit, which helps transition patients who are able to come off ventilator support. “What we have seen here on UAB’s COVID-19 unit with Jock is an extremely well-educated super team inside the Medical Intensive Care Unit performing miracles. Then they transition the patient to us so we can help them wean off the ventilator. It’s an incredible achievement to see a patient who has fought for so long be able to leave here and go home and continue their recovery.”  

After Allen was admitted to UAB, he had to be medically paralyzed for several days, and he was proned (when a patient is flipped over on their stomach to help get oxygen into the blood) frequently by UAB’s nursing staff. Allen was also in shock early on in his treatment. When he was finally able to come off the ventilator, he required a tracheostomy as it was taking a while for his lungs to heal. We was weaned off the ventilator in the Special Care Unit, where he spent 10 days recovering, and also had his tracheostomy removed.  

“He was in the ICU for about three weeks and very sick for a couple of those weeks,” said Tracey Luckhardt, M.D., a UAB School of Medicine pulmonary critical care physician and medical director of the Special Care Unit. “Once he finally turned the corner and his lungs started healing from the coronavirus infection, he’s done really well. He’s been getting very aggressive physical therapy, and occupational therapy has done amazing with him. He’s had a very remarkable recovery.” 

It is not lost on Allen that he is a 28-year-old who battled for his life against a virus that he admits he initially associated as being dangerous only for older adults, particularly those with other co-morbidities. He understands the mortality rates for older adults are much higher than for young adults, but he hopes the severity of the virus and its effects on him will make him an influencer for younger adults to take it seriously. He says he will encourage others to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash hands frequently.  

“I was that guy who didn’t think I could get it this bad. I even told my boss when this first started happening that the people who were getting it bad were elderly people,” Allen said. “I had no previous health problems. I don’t smoke. I have a drink maybe once a month. I was completely healthy. But I’m here. I’m young. And I just didn’t think young people can get it this bad, but you can. It’s very real and eye-opening.” Allen5“I don’t remember a lot of what happened while I was here, but I do know the staff at UAB took really good care of me." Photography: Steve Wood

For UAB’s staff in the MICU, Special Care Unit and other critical care areas, Luckhardt says, watching Allen leave the hospital healthy and with a chance to resume his life lifts their spirits. 

“Our critical care staff, especially in the MICU, have been working so hard for the past three months,” Luckhardt said. “We’ve had a lot of really sick patients — way more than we are used to dealing with. These patients take a long time to get better. There are a lot of setbacks. When we have a patient who gets better and is able to leave the hospital, that’s a huge win for us. It feels good for the team, and we really need to rally around those wins because it’s been a long three months with some really sick patients.” 

“I don’t remember a lot of what happened while I was here, but I do know the staff at UAB took really good care of me,” Allen said. “I can remember being calmed down by a nurse when I was scared in the ICU a couple of times. Then they told me when I first got in (the special care unit) they were going to push me, so be ready. And they did. They always came by and checked on me. They were great.”