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102-year-old survives her 2nd pandemic

Staff writer

A 102-year-old rural Tampa woman has survived two deadly pandemics: Spanish Flu, which struck Kansas in 1918 and COVID-19, which hospitalized her for six days.

Frieda Bentz, the second-oldest COVID patient in the state, was too young when Spanish Flu hit to have any memory of it, but family history showed its severity.

“Two of my cousins had the flu so bad they passed away,” Frieda said.

When Frieda was hospitalized at Newton Medical Center July 10, she ended up across the hallway from her granddaughter and caregiver, Cheri Bentz, 43.

“We waved at each other,” Frieda said. “That’s as much as we could do.”

Cheri was hospitalized July 8 after five days of cold-like symptoms including congestion, cough, tiredness, and sore throat. She also had fever and chills.

Frieda was hospitalized two days later, suffering from severe diarrhea. Her first test for the virus was negative, but a second test two days later confirmed she, too, had the virus. That’s when she was moved across the hallway from Cheri.

Both were released from the hospital last week. Although well enough to go home, both continue to feel worn out.

“I’m just tired.” Frieda said. “I don’t care if I move around much. I wasn’t really terribly sick, but it leaves you worn out. I need to get my strength back. I’m moving around with a walker, but before I was using a cane.”

Cheri tested positive July 8 at St. Luke Hospital in Marion. Immediately after her two-hour test confirmed her symptoms were caused by the virus, St. Luke transferred her to Newton, in part because her oxygen levels were unstable.

“They wanted to put me in a bigger facility in case I needed to be intubated,” Cheri said.

Cheri didn’t want to think her symptoms might have been COVID-19.

“I even thought at one point it was allergies just because of the fact I was mowing in some weeds,” Cheri said.

Her exhaustion, however, was far worse than the tiredness of having a cold.

“In the back of my mind I had a feeling it might be COVID, but you don’t want to admit it,” Cheri said. “Of course I tried to cope through it.”

Being caregiver for her grandmother spurred her decision to get tested.

“It got to the fact that I did have to get tested just because I lived with Grandma,” she said. “I didn’t want anyone else to get sick.”

During her eight days in the hospital, Cheri was in a COVID-19 quarantine area. Because she arrived late in the day, no treatments were begun that night.

Nurses working in the COVID-19 section all wore gowns and masks, had their hair covered, and wore protective gear from head to toe. They sanitized their gloves as an extra precaution.

Her physicians used treatment guidelines from Mayo Clinic. She received a plasma infusion from the blood of someone already recovered from COVID-19 to boost her immune system and received an anti-viral medicine intravenously for five days.

The anti-viral medicine is still investigational, Cheri said.

“They also gave me a steroid to help with inflammation in my lungs,” she said.

Cheri said she felt better three days after she was hospitalized, but was not completely well.

“It was one of those things where I would have a good day in the hospital and the next day I was worn out,” she said.

She still feels worn out a week after coming home despite feeling well enough to resume work Monday as office manager for this newspaper.

“Last night I was in bed by 10 p.m. and I pretty much slept all night,” she said Friday. “I’m still tired. Now I have to be on oxygen at night for a while. This is probably going to be one of the side effects.”

Cheri said she’s been hearing the same question from everyone who talks to her.

“The million dollar question everyone is asking me is, where did I get it?” she said. “I don’t know.”

Cheri has some thoughts for other people as the pandemic moves through the county, state, and nation.

“Here’s what I feel,” she said. “People don’t know if they are asymptomatic and have the virus. They need to be diligent and mindful of what they do and where they go.

“The thing is, even if they do feel like it’s a cold, they need to maybe second-guess and actually be tested.

“My family has had quarantine, and I also exposed my grandma. It’s not worth the risk. Don’t be scared to wear a mask. You may not be protecting yourself with the mask, but if you have it you’re going to protect others.

“We’re all in this battle together and we all have to work together to prevent the spread of it because it’s a serious illness.”

Frieda had three weeks of diarrhea, a sore throat, some congestion, and exhaustion. She never ran a temperature.

“I tried to treat it at home, but it didn’t work,” Frieda said. “I decided I’d better go get some help.”

Frieda’s treatment focused mostly on her diarrhea.

“It’s now a chore to even make lunch and dinner, Cheri said.

She said she wouldn’t wish COVID-19 on her worst enemy.

“It’s not fun to deal with.”

Everyone in the Bentz family was put in quarantine and took their temperatures twice a day.

“I am glad it’s over with, but I feel sorry for the rest of them,” Frieda said. “Everybody should be careful. They can’t be too careful. People should absolutely take this seriously.

“You just don’t have any idea where you get in contact with it. People are walking around with it and they don’t even know they have it.”

Frieda’s physician, Michael Reeh of Hillsboro, said he never was contacted by the health department about her positive test at the Newton hospital.

“I am disappointed that the health department doesn’t inform physicians if their patients are under quarantine or have tested positive for the coronavirus,” Reeh said.

Reeh said Centers for Disease Control protocols include a script for contract tracers to use when they talk to a person who tested positive. The script reads that their information will be shared only with people who need to know, like their health care provider.

“It may be something we need to know so we could keep an eye out for complications,” Reeh said.

CDC told Reeh the matter was a state issue.

“This is a reportable condition, and if I had someone I suspect had it, I would contact the health department,” Reeh said.

Health administrator Diedre Serene said the health department had been in contact with the medical provider who performed the test.

A hospital knows who the patient’s primary care physician is and ordinarily sends records to the physician, she said.

“We don’t get involved in finding out are they the primary care, secondary care, a nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant,” Serene said. “We consult with the provider who did the test; that’s it. The purpose of the health department is to place a person in isolation or quarantine, whatever is appropriate, because we are here to help slow the spread.”

Last modified July 22, 2020

 

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