Ida Acconciamessa has survived stage 4 melanoma, faced two broken hips, and lived through the Spanish Flu. Now, at 104 years old, she just beat the coronavirus.
"We really didn't think she was going to be able to pull through this," her daughter, 77-year-old Barbara Senese, told CBS News. "She wasn't even able to speak. She was lifeless. And now she's eating. She's talking."
Senese said both she and her sister Johann Giordano, who both used to visit their mother almost every day, last saw her in person at the Sheepshead Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Brooklyn on March 26, where they were able to see her outside of her window on the first floor, both wearing masks and gloves.
"They brought her to us in a wheelchair by the window. The window was open just a tiny bit so she could hear our voices," Senese said. "She didn't move a muscle and she stared at us. Just a stare. I don't think I'll ever forget that — ever. We were begging her for 10 to 15 minutes to say something. She said nothing. When we walked away, I said to my sister, she's sick. She has the virus."
A week later, on April 4, Senese said she got a call from a social worker at the nursing facility, saying Acconciamessa had tested positive for COVID-19.
"It was a really rough go. I used to just break down and cry," Senese said.
She said for her mother, coronavirus started with a very bad cough, "and then after that she went strictly downhill." Acconciamessa became very weak, was put on oxygen, and could barely speak or eat.
"If we tried to call, she didn't have the strength to take [the phone] off the cradle to speak to us. She sometimes would just say, 'Too weak, too weak. can't talk.'"
Other times, when the family tried to video chat with Acconciamessa through a service the nursing facility provides, "ninety percent of the time, my mother was out of it, totally. Eyes closed, in a bed no response," Senese said.
The family was afraid that due to her age, and recently recovering from both a fractured hip and another highly contagious infection called c.diff, that it was unlikely for her to pull through the coronavirus. The virus can be particularly deadly for elderly people who already have compromised immune systems.
"My mom made me promise her seven months ago, that when it was her time to be called home back to God, that she would die in her own home," Senese said. "I said of course, mom, of course. So that tortured me because I remember how she made me promise her... I never thought that if she did pass away, that I would not be with her holding her hand or comforting her during her final days. And that became, for my sister and myself, mental torture," she said.
But on Friday, April 24, the family received a call from the head nurse caring for Acconciamessa, saying that she was doing "much, much better" and that they might consider letting her go home. On May 1, when CBS News spoke to Senese, she described her mother as "very chatty."
"At 104 years, I think it's a miracle to survive through COVID," said Marco Perrone, the Nursing Administration Supervisor at the facility. "We have people 40, 50 years old [in the U.S.], passing due to COVID. So, 104 years old it's amazing she was able to survive through this."
Acconciamessa's daughter describes her as a woman who is a "fighter," and has always had a positive attitude in life, which she believes has given her "an underlying strength to conquer things."
Until the age 95, she walked five miles a day in Marine Park, Brooklyn, which she called the "health park," because she loved to exercise, Senese said. She also ate a red McIntosh apple and drank a glass of red wine every single day until age 102.
"She always used to say, 'I was born under a lucky star.' That was her mantra in life. And you know what? To be able to get through this virus, those words often come to my mind," Senese said.