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103-year-old recovers from COVID-19

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As 103-year-old Bertha Meltzer left Cape Town Mediclinic hospital on Monday, she waved to staff lining the corridors, as they cheered in celebration of her miraculous survival. The sprightly centenarian had beaten all the odds, recovering from COVID-19, double pneumonia, and respiratory failure in just more than two weeks.

Her wheelchair was pushed by her son, Lionel Meltzer, who told the SA Jewish Report that the moment of leaving the hospital was an extremely moving experience. “It was overwhelming and emotional. It shows you just how caring they are. Words are platitudes. We can’t really appreciate what healthcare workers go through, and what they do. The video [taken by Cape Town Mediclinic] shows just a small sample of the care my mother received. We are so grateful.”

He says that unlike many stories of families being left in the dark while their loved ones are in hospital for COVID-19, he was regularly updated. “There was no euphemistic language. I was told what was happening, and how she was doing. I felt comforted knowing she was in competent hands.” He wants to pay special tribute to pulmonologist Dr Neville Govender, along with all the nursing staff at the COVID-19 ward. “If it wasn’t for the care and attention she got from them at Cape Town Mediclinic, she wouldn’t have survived.”

Looking back over the past few weeks, he says his mother wasn’t feeling well. Her general practitioner was called to the residential-care facility where she lives, and after examining her, said she needed to go to hospital immediately. She went in an ambulance, and was admitted on 15 July. She was tested for COVID-19, which came back positive.

“It came as a shock, obviously. It’s one of those things you think will happen to someone else, never to your family. We were very concerned,” says Meltzer. “That weekend was critical. if she made it through, there was hope that she would survive. She had double pneumonia and another infection, and was put on at least three antibiotics. Thankfully, she never needed a respirator or ventilator. She was also treated with nasal oxygen. After that weekend, she made slow but steady progress, and 10 days later, she was discharged.”

She then went to a step-down facility for further rehabilitation, and was well enough to leave there after five days. She returned home to her care facility on Monday, 3 August.

He says his mother is generally in good health, physically and mentally, besides being gluten intolerant, and a smoker many years ago. She still goes for walks, plays bridge, loves reading, and was an excellent bowls player in her day.

Born on 8 January 1917 in the Free State, her parents came to South Africa from Latvia. The family moved to Franschhoek in the Cape where she grew up with two siblings. When completing a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Cape Town, she met her future husband, Mannie Meltzer, from Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). The couple married and settled in Harare, raising twin sons Lionel and Brian. Bertha assisted in her husband’s manufacturing business, and set down deep roots, including a wide circle of friends.

Her husband passed away in 1973. Brian left for the United Kingdom in 1978, and Lionel moved to South Africa in 2004. Yet, Bertha chose to stay on in Harare, in spite of so much uncertainty. She lived there amidst the continuing unrest and economic crisis until her sons brought her to Johannesburg and then Cape Town in 2008. She has lived happily in the Mother City since then, but misses family members and friends who have passed on. She has six grandchildren and four great-granddaughters

“When someone has lived such a long and interesting life and seen so much, it’s tragic to think she could have been struck down by a virus. This episode has knocked her. She will need to regain confidence and strength. But her story continues, and she is making steady progress,” says her son.

“It’s also been upsetting to hear authorities and others telling us that we must stay home and not see the doctor or go to the hospital. If we had listened, she wouldn’t have lived. So if you are symptomatic, get hold of your doctor, and go to hospital if you need to. It could save your life.”

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