Frail in body but not in spirit, she has faced multiple grave diagnoses with admirable faith.
It’s always nice to read good news, such as this story that appeared December 1 in the Italian newspaper Avvenire. It described the case of a 75-year-old woman with advanced ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) who recovered from COVID-19.
Anna (only her first name is given) returned to hospice care after being hospitalized in October for pneumonia caused by COVID-19. Anna defeated the virus, to the amazement of the health care workers who had little hope in her recovery.
Anna is still gravely ill with ALS, but cured from COVID-19. Her recovery demonstrates how mistaken it is to automatically exclude people from intensive therapy because they are older or fragile due to serious chronic diseases, giving priority to those who would be more likely to overcome the disease.
The elderly woman, who was a seamstress in her working years, began to fight this terrible neurological disease 10 years ago. Her decade-long battle is extraordinary, given that the average life expectancy after an ALS diagnosis is only 2-5 years. She has proven herself capable of fighting the coronavirus as well.
In November of 2019, Anna was transferred to the Karol Wojtyla Hospice in Minervino Murge (southern Italy). By then, she required constant use of a respirator, and could only make herself understood with a few small movements of her eyes and hands. A representative of the organization that manages the hospice told Avvenire, however, “There can be much life in the last stretch of the road of existence, and our task is to provide care, even when faced with an incurable disease.”
Anna’s will to live
Tragically, ALS leaves no escape for those it afflicts. They progressively experience difficulties in speech, swallowing and breathing, until death due to respiratory failure.
Anna is one of the few patients who has survived 10 years after the onset of the disease, and this says a lot about her determination. Her perseverance motivated the hospice to get an ocular communicator connected to the internet to give the elderly woman the opportunity to relate with the outside world.
Showing great ability to learn new things, Anna has learned to use the touch screen and send text messages to those close to her: some friends, a Tunisian family who live near her home, and the hospice staff.
Thanks to this means of communication, even while at the hospital, the elderly woman remained in contact with the nurses who care for her at the hospice. Her messages are not always easily decipherable, but they showed her desire not to give up. What a gift it is that she is still able to send messages to her loved ones.
Cured from COVID-19
The extraordinary news broke in late November: Anna had defeated the virus and tested negative. The hospice was ready to welcome her back.
Where does this woman find the strength to go on despite everything she has suffered? The answer comes from the psychologist who supports her at the hospice, who told Avvenire, “Anna is a determined woman, with a strong character … but she also has a great faith that allows her to face her illness with serenity.”
These are the two ingredients that keep Anna so strongly attached to life: the care of those who love her and consider her existence fully dignified and worthwhile, and absolute faith in Him, Who is close to us always, even and especially in the darkest moments of illness.