ROME – To recover from the coronavirus, as she did, Ada Zanusso recommends courage and faith, the same qualities that have served her well in almost 104 years.
Italy, along with neighboring France, has the largest population in Europe of what has been dubbed the “super old” – people who are at least 100 years old. As the nation with the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the world, Italy turns to old survivors for inspiration.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Zanusso said on Tuesday in a video call with the Associated Press at the Maria Grazia seniors’ residence in Lessona, a town in the northern Piedmont region. “I watch television, I read the newspapers.”
Zanusso wore a protective mask, as did his 35-year-old family doctor next to her, Carla Furno Marchese, who also wore glasses and a dress that covered her head.
Asked about her illness, Zanusso was modest: “I had a fever. “
Her doctor said that Zanusso was in bed for a week.
“We hydrated her because she wasn’t eating, and then we thought she wasn’t going to because she was always drowsy and not reacting,” said Furno Marchese.
“One day she opened her eyes and started doing what she used to do again,” said Furno Marchese. The doctor remembered when Zanusso was able to sit up and then managed to get out of bed.
What helped her overcome the disease? “Courage and strength, faith,” said Zanusso. It worked for her, so she advises others who fall ill to “build courage, have faith.”
COVID-19 can cause mild or moderate symptoms and most infected people recover. But the elderly and those with health problems may be at high risk for more serious illness.
The virus has killed nearly 18,000 people in Italy and more than 88,000 worldwide. The World Health Organization says that 95% of those who died in Europe were over the age of 60.
As part of Italy’s five-week lockdown, which aims to contain the spread of infections that have overwhelmed hospitals, visitors are not allowed in homes for the aged.
Her doctor asked Zanusso what she would like to do when “they open the doors.”
“I would like to take a nice walk,” she replied. What about your three great grandchildren? “Watch them play together. “
Deaths, hospitalizations and new infections are stabilizing in Italy, and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce in the coming days how long the lock will stay in place, with the hope that some restrictions may be relaxed.
Zanusso is currently isolated from other residents while awaiting a follow-up swab to confirm that she is negative for the virus.
She grew up in Treviso, in the northeast of Veneto, where she worked for many years in the textile industry. Zanusso, who turns 104 on August 16, has four children – three of whom live – and has four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
“She is old, but healthy, with no chronic illness,” said her doctor.
This week, the Milanese newspaper Corriere della Sera devoted an entire page to the stories of super-elderly survivors, entitled “Healing at 100 years”. The inspiring portraits are a counterpoint to the news of a large number of deaths among the elderly living in Italian nursing homes and other assisted living establishments.
Among the victims, most of the elderly were not tested for COVID-19 if they died in nursing homes.
The medical staff “went through a very difficult time,” said Furno Marchese, the doctor. “It was a big emergency with so many sick residents, so to see a positive result was very rewarding, not only for me but for all the people who worked hard here without interruption.”
Outside the 61-bed non-profit Maria Grazia residence, the Italian flag flies over staff in tribute to those who died from the virus.
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