Rudi Heider, a retired chemist and professor, has seen a lot in his lifetime. At 107, he’s lived through the Spanish Flu, two world wars and now the coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, Heider is currently recovering from the virus in his room at the Friendship Village Chesterfield Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, the oldest person thought to have survived COVID-19 in the U.S.
Janet Heider, the granddaughter he affectionately calls “my sunshine,” said she and her family were shocked to find out he’d contracted the coronavirus in April. When she was able to talk to him, she greeted him with their song, “You Are My Sunshine.”
“His eyes lit up,” she said. “And he started crying. He smiled and he sang with his weak voice a little bit of the last part of ‘You Are My Sunshine.’”
She and her family remained hopeful that he’d pull through like he did when he had a stroke at age 100 or a fractured vertebrae at 104. The idea of losing him, even at 107, was unthinkable for Janet.
“I said, ‘I’m not ready to let you go,’” she recalled she told her grandfather. “And he said, ‘You have to be.’ And I said, ‘No, we’re going to celebrate your birthday. And he said, ‘No, no, no.’ And then I said, ‘I love you so much. I don’t want this. I’m going to pray.’”
His recovery was nothing short of a miracle, Heider said. Last Tuesday, he was released from isolation just in time for his 107th birthday the next day.
“I was overjoyed,” she said. “I was just crying and praying.”
Heider said she couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate her grandfather's recovery and birthday than to share the news with the world. It started with a Facebook post and reached news outlets in Seattle, Washington where she lives. From there, it went viral.
“I said, ‘My goodness, you are famous now,’ and we were laughing, because I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, your picture is plastered all over social media. All over the internet.’ And he was like, ‘Did I at least look good?’ I said, ‘You looked amazing! Everyone was saying you looked very handsome.’”
Rudi Heider was able to celebrate his 107th birthday with family gathered outside of his bedroom window, devouring his favorite dessert: a slice of lemon meringue pie. Heider said her grandfather is still recovering, taking each day at a time.
“With grandpa, his front-porch light may be dimming, but there’s definitely someone home,” she said.
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