Having lived through the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 before surviving two world wars, Ada Zanusso tested positive for coronavirus at age 103 – and her doctors thought her fate was sealed.
As they did all they could to treat her, Ms Zanusso, from the northern Italian town of Lessona, appeared to be slipping away before their eyes.
“We hydrated her because she wasn’t eating, and then we thought she wasn’t going to make it because she was always drowsy and not reacting,” her family doctor of 35 years, Carla Furno Marchese, said.
:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
Then, without warning, things suddenly improved.
“One day she opened her eyes again and resumed doing what she used to before,” Dr Furno Marchese explained.
But while she is understandably being held up as an inspiration to others in the country with the world’s largest number of recorded COVID-19 deaths, the centenarian is conspicuously undramatic about her coronavirus ordeal.
“I had some fever,” she said, despite drifting in and out of consciousness while confined to bed for a week with the illness.
And how is she now?
“I’m well, I’m well,” Ms Zanusso said from the Maria Grazia Residence for the elderly in the region of Piedmont. “I watch TV, read the newspapers.”
Asked what helped her beat the disease, Ms Zanusso was in little doubt.
“Courage and strength, faith,” she said , while advising others who fall ill to also “give yourself courage, have faith.”
COVID-19 can cause mild or moderate symptoms and most of those who are infected recover, but the elderly and those with existing health problems can be at high risk for more serious illness.
The virus has killed around 18,000 people in Italy and over 88,000 worldwide. The World Health Organisation says 95% of those who have died in Europe were over 60 years old.
And under Italy’s five-week-long lockdown, which is aimed at containing the spread of infections that have overwhelmed hospitals, visitors are not allowed at homes for the elderly.
Asked what she wanted to do when the restrictions are eased and the home opens its doors again, Ms Zanusso was in little doubt.
“I’d like to take a lovely walk,” she replied. And your three great-grandchildren? “Watch them play together.”
Deaths, hospitalisations and new infections are levelling off in Italy, and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce over the coming days how long the lockdown will remain in place.
While Ms Zanusso is isolated from other residents now, her life is expected to begin its gradual return to normality soon when she receives a follow-up swab test to confirm she is negative for the virus.