'Coronavirus-free': 90-year-old grandmother returns home to family

The family all said their goodbyes to Geneva Wood in what seemed like her last days. But the 90-year-old kept fighting.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Meghan Holohan

While the world is still struggling to comprehend and manage the coronavirus pandemic, there is a happy story to share from the West coast: A 90-year-old grandmother has fully recovered from COVID-19 and is now home with family.

The last few months have been hard on Geneva Wood and her family. Wood spent much of the winter recovering from a stroke at The Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington. By February, the 90-year-old improved so much doctors planned to send her home on March 2. But the Saturday before her release, the facility went on lockdown because of COVID-19. Then on March 5, Wood spiked a fever.

“This was scary,” Kate Neidigh, 37, who is married to Wood’s grandson, James, told TODAY. She wrote about the family’s experience in an article on Seattle Refined. “We try to have some positivity, but my husband and I were like ‘This is it.’”

Geneva Wood worked as a maternity ward nurse at nights when she raised her children. Then she got a master's degree in hospital administration. Wood, now 90, always worked hard and that strength continues to help her. Courtesy the family of Geneva Wood

Wood’s health quickly deteriorated and the family said their goodbyes through a pane of glass. But then something amazing happened: Wood started improving.

“It was pretty surreal,” Kate said. “She’s making these requests. She said, ‘I need homemade potato soup,’ and is delegating things to family members.”

“She is absolutely tough as nails,” James Neidigh, 35, Wood’s grandson told TODAY. “She is definitely the type of person who could make it through anything.”

From stroke to the unknown

When Wood first entered the nursing facility in January, she couldn’t use her right side, walk, talk, feed or dress herself from the stroke. But she pushed herself and slowly regained much of her abilities.

“It was a great experience,” James explained. “She learned how to basically walk and talk and feed herself.”

When Geneva Wood first entered the nursing facility to recover from a stroke, she couldn't walk, talk, feed or dress herself. But, she worked hard and soon recovered most of her abilities. That's why her family was so discouraged when they learned she tested positive for coronavirus. Courtesy the family of Geneva Wood

But she fell and went to a local hospital. Then the family learned she had a fever and would be tested for coronavirus. They truly started worrying.

“That started things in a different direction,” James said.

On March 6, the family said they learned Wood tested positive for coronavirus. They were stunned.

“For her to fight back from that stroke and to go through all that rehab … and it’s a stupid virus that is going to take her out, of all things, it was just shocking,” daughter Cami Neidigh, 60, told TODAY. “It was like I can’t believe this is the way she is going to go.”

Cami Neidigh was so impressed that her mom, Geneva Wood, thrived in the nursing facility as she recovered by stroke. She couldn't believe that coronavirus was going to be the thing that threatened Wood's life. Courtesy the family of Geneva Wood

At first, Wood’s health was stable and family could visit from a distance — through a pane of glass. They wrote notes and held them up to the window and gave her photos and a tablet to keep her entertained. (Once items went in, they never came back out.) A doctor read the Bible to her because her family needed to be isolated from her.

“It was just all these things to give her comfort,” James said.

They could only talk to her for about 15 minutes at a time before she’d start coughing “aggressively and her oxygen levels would plummet,” he said.

Geneva Wood cherished her family, including Kate and James Neidigh's daughter, June, who is now 4.Courtesy the family of Geneva Wood

Then Wood’s health worsened and doctors provided comfort care. The family was devastated that they couldn’t be with her and doctors allowed her four adult children to wear full protective gear to visit her one at a time. James held a sign against the glass that said, “I love you” as everyone cried. They thought this was the end.

'There is hope'

But Wood had other plans. She started to recover, and in late March her family reported that after a series of tests she was officially "coronavirus-free."

On March 22, Geneva Wood was declared "coronavirus-free."Courtesy of the family of Geneva Wood

"The staff who has been treating her told her by coming into a room with a sign, all without masks. Something she hasn't seen for weeks," Kate wrote in her article.

“Everybody was surprised because she was in such bad shape. Nobody thought she was going to survive,” Cami said. “She wanted us to be proud of her. She didn’t want us to think she was going to give up.”

Her feisty attitude and strength along with her dedication to her clan — four living children, 11 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren — helped her focus on her recovery.

“If anyone is going to kick this virus’ ass it is her. She’s always been so charismatic and a fighter,” Kate said, adding Wood’s recovery provides a silver lining. “There is hope. There is a positive story here.”

When Geneva Wood was a toddler, her family found her crawling in a pasture behind a cow, trying to get its attention. Her family said she was always tough and willing to put in the hard work. Courtesy the family of Geneva Wood

They also want to encourage social distancing.

“People need to protect their neighbors, their friends or family,” Cami said. “We need to help each other and we need to stay positive. Forget the fear. But instead look at (staying at home) as an opportunity to just be able to help each other out.”