Coronavirus survivor

Virginia Howard, 93, received flowers Saturday from Bernadette Sgro, activities director at Communities at Indian Haven, as Howard was released from the nursing home after being treated for COVID-19.

Just about any time someone exits a personal care facility to return to their own residence is a time for celebration.

The staff at Communities at Indian Haven, the county-owned nursing home in White Township, had good cause when Virginia Howard wheeled out Saturday afternoon, her stint in rehab having been called a success.

Caregivers lined the walkway and applauded. Many stood back to snap photos.

There was a floral piece: a bouquet that Howard was blessed to hold and adore, administrator Kim Cobaugh said.

Quite different from what might have been expected in late March when Howard, 93, diagnosed with a COVID-19 infection, was on her back for several days in an Indiana Regional Medical Center intensive care room.

Short of being put on a ventilator, treatment at IRMC cleared Howard of the virus in less than two weeks, according to her son, Jeff Howard, of Plum.

A 16-day rehab regimen at Indian Haven assured that Howard was OK to care for herself and return to independent living at the family’s homestead since 1956 in Blairsville.

Rolling out into the sunny warmth of spring in a wheelchair, somewhat under her own power, Howard met her family and allayed a lot of fears. Her six feet of separation from others would only be of the horizontal type.

“We are so thrilled at this outcome,” daughter-in-law Ann Howard said, relief evident in her voice.

Virginia had been admitted to IRMC in mid-March for several days of treatment and was sent back home, but she returned a day later when she wasn’t feeling better. That time, a test for COVID-19 confirmed that she had the disease.

To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Cobaugh said, Virginia Howard was the first person admitted to any skilled nursing facility in Indiana County after having been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

And that’s the only statistic that will reflect her case: Howard is among 63 Indiana County residents counted as positive (“confirmed or probable”) cases of COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health website. The stats showed Indiana County has had 564 negative tests for COVID-19. Four patients have died of the disease. All four were among the 13 positive cases (12 residents, one employee) reported in three unspecified personal-care or nursing homes in the county.

Howard “is a message of hope and a salute to our staff for the wonderful nursing care they provided with this unprecedented pandemic,” said Kim Kelly, director of marketing and business development for Affinity Health Services, the management that operates Indian Haven on behalf of the county.

“This is something positive,” Kelly said. “It shows that no matter someone’s age, there is hope. The message is don’t give up on someone because of the diagnosis.”

Cobaugh said Indian Haven passed a big test with Howard’s discharge.

“We did a lot of training for it,” Cobaugh said. “My nursing team was prepared for this. It worked out really, really well. We are blessed that she has gotten well, and she is blessed to be returning home. It’s one of the most fantastic things that has happened since I have been here.”

Cobaugh has been the administrator for 23 years.

What the medical care and rehab didn’t address in the past month was Howard’s hearing. Her only response to questions from more than six feet away was a little wave that might also have betrayed an infectious smile — covered by a protective cloth face mask.

Virginia’s only contact with family since her April 9 admission at the locked-down Indian Haven was occasional window visits from her son, Cobaugh said. The county home has kept the residents busy with activities and craft projects, and has provided tablets or cellphones for residents to talk with relatives and friends on the outside.

So with her flowers on her lap, the strings of a bunch of Mylar balloons in her fist and a hand-made sign commemorating how she conquered COVID-19, Howard made her way to her son’s car.

There was one more tribute from the Indian Haven staffers as she said goodbye: a loud, happy round of “Happy Birthday.”

Coronavirus survivor Virginia Howard will turn 94 on Tuesday.