Doug Craft is supervisor of grounds at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Doug Craft is supervisor of grounds at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
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People of the U: Doug Craft

Published on Wednesday, February 10, 2021

By: Ruth Cummins

Editor's Note: Front and Center is part of an ongoing series featuring UMMC's faculty, staff and students. See more Front and Center features.

Doug Craft wears a patch that’s a byproduct of surgery two decades ago that saved his life.

And although his eye doctor has floated the possibility of a procedure that could mean he’d lose the patch, Craft is not interested. “Nobody wants me to do it,” he said. “The eye patch has become my identity.”

Craft, who supervises the four-man groundskeeping team at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, two years ago became an employee of the hospital he says “played a huge part in extending my life.” He was working as a grounds superintendent in the metro Jackson area when he began having excruciating pain in his head and left side of the neck.

“My little finger went numb. I went to an orthopedic surgeon, and she said I was fishing for Workman’s Compensation,” Craft remembered. “It got so bad that my wife had to take me to the ER.” That was 21 years ago come July 2021.

Doctors there first thought he had a brain tumor, but then zeroed in on the cause of his pain: a fungal infection in his cranium. They sent him to UMMC. “They tried to treat it with medication, but it kept growing,” Craft said. “I ended up having a 13-hour surgery.” 

His medical team gave him less than a 5 percent chance of surviving the surgery. “My blood pressure dropped. My kidneys failed. I had a stroke,” he said of the time in the operating room. “They had to remove my left eye to go into my skull and remove the fungus.”

He was told he’d probably be in the hospital until Christmas.

“I stayed in the hospital three and a half weeks, and I went back to work that Oct. 1,” Craft said.

The fungus entered his brain through his nose courtesy of a deviated septum Craft developed after breaking his nose as a boy. “The fungal spores got caught there and began to grow,” Craft said. “The deviated septum was repaired during my surgery, so there’s no place for it to grow now.”

Craft said he feels nothing but gratitude to be back on the campus where he almost died. His team of groundskeepers are both visible and almost invisible as they spread across campus, cleaning everything from the parking garages and stadium parking lot to treating sidewalks and steps so that no one will slip on ice or snow. “My guys work hard at keeping the grounds beautiful,” he said.

“Doug is a joy to work with,” said Larry Lineberry, associate director of facilities services in the Division of Physical Facilities. “He knows his trade and helps me understand what we need to do at each turn in keeping the grounds looking good.

“Doug’s knowledge of the many different plants, trees and grass here on campus and how to care for them is unique and valuable to the University.”

“My guys maintain the areas not seen by the general public,” said Craft, who was self-employed as a landscaper before coming to the U. “About half of the mowing is done by contractors, and half by us. Pressure washing is a big thing for us right now, but we do a lot behind the scenes.”

A big recent project was preparing the West Street Farmers Market for COVID-19 testing. Recently, "we had to fill in several large potholes there that were interfering with the process,” Craft said. “We’re on the ready now for ice and snow, and we clean up limbs throughout campus after storms.”

His crew, Craft said, does a stellar job, handling situations including providing logistical support for repairs to a water main break in front of the School of Medicine and cleaning graffiti off of a retaining wall. “They look around and find what needs to be done, and they do it,” he said. Ditto for Craft, who patrols campus frequently, on the prowl for areas that need attention.

“When I need help with the many special projects that pop up here on campus I reach out to Doug to help complete the task,” Lineberry said. “Recently, we had Doug and his team come in very early - 5:30 a.m. - to begin de-icing sidewalks and walkways when we had the snow.”

When he’s not working, Craft and his wife Shannon enjoy country life outside Florence and caring for their menagerie of pets. “We travel a good bit, and we go to the mountains in Arkansas frequently,” said Craft. The Crafts enjoy visiting their four grown children, “and we normally go to several Ole Miss football games each year.”

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