Falls pastor Craig Pridgen probably did everything right.

Before Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued his first executive order, shutting down most of the state to battle to novel coronavirus, Pridgen shut down services at his church, New Bethel Baptist on South Avenue.

"We closed on March 15," he said Tuesday morning in Schoellkopf Park. "And then I had a desire to cook."

So he gathered his family for a large dinner.

"Unbeknownst to us, that would be one of the last times we would gather together for months," he said. 

Two days later, Pridgen began to feel ill. When his symptoms worsened, the Niagara Falls Memorial Center Board of Directors member call the hospital's CEO & President Joe Ruffolo. He had him call the center's infectious disease expert Dr. Rajinder Bajwa.

Bajwa told him to go to a hospital "as soon as you can." Pridgen headed to NFMMC.

"You don't get hospitals like Niagara Falls Memorial everywhere you go," the pastor said. "They really care about people."

After testing positive for COVID-19, (the disease would also infect his sister and his father), Pridgen battled through some tough days at the medical center, worrying he might not make it back to his family.

Recovered now, Pridgen warmly urged a crowd gathered to honor local residents and health care providers to celebrate those who have been impacted by the worldwide pandemic and to appreciate the care that has been available in the Falls. 

"I received some of the best treatment in the world," Pridgen said. "I felt the people who cared for for me were the reason I could keep my promise (to his daughter and family) that I would come home."

A tree in the park was dedicated to all those whose lives have been impacted by COVID-19 and a moment of silence was held honoring those whose lives have been lost to the disease.

"And our tears, filled with joy, go out to the 182 COVID individuals who tested positive (at the medical center) and who have or are in the process of recovering," Ruffolo said. "That is a big reason to celebrate."

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