WILBRAHAM, Mass. (WWLP) – The coronavirus pandemic has been especially deadly for men and women over the age of sixty-five, many living in nursing homes. But a 103-year-old nursing home resident in Wilbraham infected by COVID-19 just weeks ago has beaten the odds. Jennie Stejna of Indian Orchard has lived at the Life Care Center for the past seven years. Senior Executive Director Dennis Lopata remembers the day this 103-year-old tested positive for the virus.
“Approximately three and a half weeks later in the middle of May, two weeks ago, she graduated off the unit and is back to her standard care unit where she had lived previously with us,” said Lopata. Jennie’s large family, which includes two great, great-grandchildren, called to 22News attention that USA Today had run a picture of Jennie celebrating with a can of beer.
Her recovery from the coronavirus was so inspiring that Life Care Nursing Supervisor Lisa Persson wrote an essay which concludes with these words:
“The day that we all were dreading finally came on April 18, 2020, the virus had now found its way into our facility even after the endless hours of preparation that staff had worked so hard to implement. And while we all know that this virus does not discriminate, I could not understand how….or why it had chosen one of our oldest and most frail resident … Jennie Stejna, a 103 year old resident. Jennie, who is blind and frail in body but not in spirit, whose one love was to sit in her chair and listen on her old transition radio to every Red Sox game and complain how “all they do is talk….why can’t they just play the game for God’s sake.”
I remember thinking that the battle was lost, there would be no way that this woman, at 103 years old, could beat the demon that we have all seen on the nightly news. The demon that has accounted for more than half the deaths from COVID-19, would most undoubtedly take this woman. Our staff had to readjust our battle plan now that the virus had made its way in to the building. We now had to figure out how to love each of our residents through the war that was now just beginning for us. Our first course of action, was to figure out how to try to pull Jennie through this fight that she was going to be facing.
We developed a plan that would allow for two of our Nurses, Deb Hite and Morgan Cruz, who volunteered to care for our first COVID-19 positive patient, to focus all their care solely on Jennie.
By having a dedicated staff to care for Jennie, we would ensure that she would have constant care, we would also help to further prevent the exposure to other residents and staff. We were prepared for two things, either help Jennie survive the Corona virus, or help her, when and if her time came, to go peacefully, knowing that she would not be able to fight the virus alone and if she was going to leave this world, she would not be alone at the end. Night after night and day after day, for more than two weeks, these two nurses each worked 12 hour shifts, putting themselves at risk, and limiting their access to their own families, provided all the care for Jennie. Day upon day, pushing Jennie to drink, eat and even get out of bed, when all she wanted to do was refuse and give up at times. Many nights were spent worrying that the fever that overtook her body, would eventually overtake her soul.
And one day, I had to make that call that every medical professional just does not want to make. The call to Jennie’s family member to discuss that she may not be making it through the night. Jennie had stopped drinking, needing more pain medication and it did not look like she would be making it through this. I remember ending the call, reassuring her nephew, that at the end, she would not be left alone and then hanging up in tears, because …despite the promises we had made to ourselves and families, we had failed in this struggle.
As I left work that night, my thoughts were consumed by thoughts of all of our residents, all the emotional havoc this horrible virus was causing for our families and staff. As I sat down heavy hearted and emotionally drained, I turned on the television to catch up on the updated news status of the virus, I was once again hit with how the long term care facilities were “causing harm” to our residents and how dare we “have group activities” that could have possibly caused the virus to enter into buildings and kill our elderly. I quietly just shook my head and thought…what about what we actually do….we take the best care possible of our residents, we attempt to give them the quality of life that they, as our most precious commodity, deserve. What about the 70 year old C.N.A. that comes to work each and every day to bath, feed, lift, laugh and love her residents, or the housekeeper that stops to buy a resident her favorite coffee every day, because she knows that would bring a moment of sunshine to the woman whose sole joy comes from sitting and listening to the Red Sox’s game on her transition radio… where was that being broadcasted? I stopped that day…stopped watching updates on the nightly news….instead I would fast forward to the positive segments, like the “person of the week” section of the broadcast. I was determined that I would not let the negative fill my mind, that I would take my inspiration only from the positives, hearing only the good chapters in people’s lives, because there was already too much sadness, including that our team would most likely be saying goodbye to one of our own soon.
The next day, as I was preparing myself for whatever I may be facing in the coming day, I reminded myself that I would need to put on my brave face and help my staff, especially the two dedicated nurses who had been caring endlessly for Jennie, prepare themselves for losing our resident, without them losing the faith that they did all they could for Jennie. As I walked into work that morning to meet with Jennie’s nurse to get a status update, I was met with a smile on the nurses face…Jennie had started to eat and drink and was cussing up a storm saying “I am not sick…I feel fine”. As I went in to see Jennie, I could see that her fighting spirit was back, she was awake, wanting to drink and in total denial about her having been sick, it was then that I knew….Knew that just maybe …maybe we saved the one…with our teams determination, prayers and love.
It has now been over 21 days since Jennie was first diagnosed with having the virus and she is now not showing any signs of the virus and is recovered.Lisa Pearsson, Nursing Supervisor