“I have survived it all, haven’t I?” says 102 year-old former COVID-19 patient

A one hundred and two-year-old woman in Iceland has been declared cured of COVID-19 in the town of Bolungarvík in Iceland.

Born in 1917, Helga Guðmundsdóttir had been quarantined since the beginning of April at the nursing home where she lives. Her granddaughter Agnes Veronika Hauksdóttir hadn´t worked in the health-care sector for many years. When COVID-19 struck she joined the so-called rear-guard brigade as an auxiliary-nurse to take care of the elderly in the Berg nursing home where many elderly patients, including her grandmother, had been infected.

“Frankly, I hardly knew the word quarantine,” Agnes Veronika told UNRIC in an interview, “and I was surprised that my grandmother did.”

But it was no coincidence that Helga Guðmundsdóttir was familiar with that word. She was only one year old in 1918 when the latest world-wide pandemic hit Iceland severely. “She has talked a lot about the Spanish flu. Her uncle was in quarantine on the farm where she grew up.”

Born during World War I, as a Danish citizen before her country´s independence, Helga has been living in Bolungarvík (population 1,000) 479 kilometres north-west of Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, since just after World War II. She moved to the fishing village after having met and married a local seaman. When her son was only two weeks old, she had a relapse of tuberculosis, which she contracted as a young girl. She was moved to a sanitorium in the vicinity of Reykjavik where she had to stay for months, far away from her newborn.

Helga Guðmundsdóttir, 102 year-old COVID19 survivor. Photo Credits: © Jóhannes Kr. Kristjánsson
Photo Credits: © Jóhannes Kr. Kristjánsson

Helga survived tuberculosis, which was called the “white death”, and has been healthy most of her life. Indeed, she lived at home until the death of her husband when she was 90. At 98 she was considered too well to qualify for a place in the town’s nursing home.

Eventually, she was accepted and was among dozens who were infected by COVID-19. “When she had a temperature of 38, I thought, “that’s it” her granddaughter said. “But she was only bed-ridden for one day, although she suffered stomach pains. She is so tough that she forced herself to drink.”

Her granddaughter, like all other staff, has had to care for patients wearing protective gear. But since all patients have now been declared COVID-free, they “only” have to wear masks and gloves. “It was suffocating, 40 degrees hot inside and really hard to work,” she explains. Other relatives gathered on a daily basis outside and cheered. They sent Helga and Agnes greetings through the windows.

Resolute the old lady may be, but Agnes Veronika is adamant that her good spirits are the reason for her keeping going. “She is a very positive person, always laughing. I am sure that this has contributed to her good health and surviving COVID-19”.

“I have survived it all, haven´t I?” Helga Guðmundsdóttir told a television crew as she looked back at a life in which she has seen her country become independent, lived through two world wars and the cold war, two pandemics and twice survived the “White Death”.

Flanked by her granddaughter at the Berg nursing home, she says she is looking forward to her 103rd birthday in less than two weeks time on 17 May 2020. “If there ever was a time to celebrate, it is now,” Agnes Veronika said.


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