97-year-old coronavirus patient fully recovers

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97-year-old coronavirus patient fully recovers

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Hwang Yeong-ju, the oldest person to have fully recovered from the new coronavirus in Korea, sits with her son, far left, and a Cheongdo County official, far right, Thursday at her home in Cheongdo County, North Gyeongsang. [Cheongdo County]

Hwang Yeong-ju, a 97-year-old woman from Cheongdo County in North Gyeongsang, is the oldest person to have fully recovered from the new coronavirus in Korea.

Last Thursday, Hwang was released from an isolation ward 12 days after testing positive. She is free of the virus.

“I thought it was a dream when I heard that my mother had fully recovered,” her 73-year-old son Hong Hyo-won told the JoongAng Ilbo over the phone Thursday. “After returning home, my mother said, ‘I was able to overcome this disease because I had the motivation to return to my happy life.’”

Hwang lives with her son in Gaknam-myeon in Cheongdo, a county near Daegu and the site of one of Korea’s main clusters of coronavirus.

On March 13, Hwang tested positive for the disease. She is suspected to have contracted it at a local senior care center near her home. Another person who frequented the center earlier tested positive.

“My mother always enjoyed going to the senior care center,” said Hong. “The workers there regarded her as their own mother. So, when they found out that she was infected - and infected there - the head of the center and I shed tears together over the phone.”

Ahead of the test, Hwang had a mild fever but no other symptoms. While she has slight dementia, Hwang generally was in good health with no other underlying conditions. However, North Gyeongsang provincial officials, taking into consideration her age, had Hwang check into an isolation ward at Pohang Medical Center rather than allow her to stay at home.

Hong is a cancer survivor who has had 75 percent of his stomach removed. After Hong underwent stomach cancer surgery, the mother and son decided to move somewhere with cleaner air. They moved from Busan to Cheongdo County in 2002.

Thus, Hwang was worried about her son even while she was in the isolation ward. Hong, in turn, worried over his elderly mother battling the virus alone.

“I wasn’t able to take care of her because I was a direct contact and was under quarantine,” said Hong. “I spent each day in tears.”

Luckily, Hong tested negative.

At first, Hwang had a difficult time adjusting to the isolated room in Pohang Medical Center. It seemed as if she had lost the motivation to live. She wasn’t able eat properly and didn’t even pick up phone calls from her son.

At the time, Hong implored her, “The staff at the senior care center are worried to tears about you. Don’t you want to meet your friends at the center and enjoy life again? You need to make a complete recovery and live a happy life with me.”

After that, Hwang adopted a more positive outlook. She finally tested negative Wednesday.

Previously, the oldest patient to have recovered from the coronavirus in Korea was a 93-year-old woman. She was released on March 21.

The fatality rate for the virus in Korea is around 1.4 percent. However, the fatality rate for those 80 years and above is around 15 percent, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“People are fighting a frightening virus,” said Hong. Older patients should learn from his mother. “People shouldn’t give up on life just because they are old, because they have a disease. They can overcome the virus by envisioning a return to their family and friends, to a happy life.”

BY BAEK KYUNG-SEO, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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