Meet some of the oldest coronavirus survivors — all 100 years old and above — whose optimism and fighting spirits inspire all who hear their stories.
Read on for their longevity secrets — and the life lessons they say aided their recoveries, from good eating habits to keeping calm under pressure.
Keep calm and carry on
World War II was no match for East Rockaway, LI, resident Walter Reed. And neither was COVID-19.
The 100-year-old Reed, who drove race cars up until a year ago, says he has more days ahead of him thanks to a life full of good judgment.
“I never smoked,” he says. “I watched my diet. I always try to do the right things: You never hear me cussing … I don’t get angry, I hold my temper down. I walk away and have a good relationship with everybody.”
Even so, the coronavirus did a number on the Norwalk, Conn., native.
“I don’t remember much of anything,” says the retired MTA train operator of his battle with the illness. “I’ve been on Earth a long time, I’ve never been like that. I didn’t know where I was — you lose track of everything. My memory isn’t as good as it was before.”
His biggest hope? To get behind the wheel of a racing car again.
“I still want to get back at it,” he says.
You’ve gotta have faith
“God takes good care of me,” says lifelong West Sayville, LI, resident Rose Leigh-Manuell, 101.
The devout Protestant — who was born during the Spanish flu pandemic — is exceptionally optimistic due to her faith, says her 63-year-old son, Gary Leigh-Manuell.
“She always has this upbeat attitude,” he says of his mother, who has three additional children, 17 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and eight great-great-grandchildren. “One of her famous sayings is ‘this too shall pass.’ ”
She’s also long prioritized being social and spending time with her son.
“We were going out to dinner at least a couple times a week,” says Gary. “About 10 days before she tested positive [for the coronavirus], we went out to dinner three nights in a row.”
In April, she fell ill with a fever and chills, and spent two weeks battling the virus at the Good Samaritan Nursing and Rehabilitation Care Center in Sayville, and was able to avoid a ventilator.
Leigh-Manuell has always been tough: She lost her husband nearly 50 years ago and she had to start working to support her family. At one point she was employed as a fire department dispatcher, then at a fish market until 95.
“The only reason she retired was because the fish market closed,” says Gary.
“She says to me, ‘When this is all over, we have a dinner date, right?’ ”
Stay strong and independent
104-year-old Lilian Menendez credits her longevity with good genes.
“My mother was 98 and she didn’t have a gray hair in her head — she was jet black,” says Menendez, the eldest resident at Apex Rehab & Healthcare in South Huntington, LI.
Menendez adds that her mother, who raised six children alone in Manhattan, taught her to be strong — and made sure they were fortified to do so.
“My mother took very good care of us,” says Menendez. “We ate a lot of rice and beans, and chicken. Sunday we got chicken because we were poor then.”
The Harlem native grew up to have two children, four grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
Since recovering from the virus in April, “I feel wonderful,” says Menendez, who once worked at Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue, where she made $10 a week. “I’m as strong as a bull.”
What’s more: symptom-free, she says COVID-19 is now in the past.
“I’m back 100 percent,” she says.
Never stop moving
In early May, Jennie Stejna was so ill that her grandson Dave Stejna said his goodbyes. But on May 4, the “feisty and tenacious” 103-year-old woke up and said, “I’m not sick!” Once she was cleared of the virus a couple of weeks later, she celebrated with a cold beer, something Dave says she’d often indulge in on a hot summer day.
The family matriarch, who lives in a nursing home in Wilbraham, Mass., was the first person to contract the deadly virus in the facility and the first there to beat it.
Dave tells The Post that it is her active nature that’s propelled her through her century of life.
“She’s the most high-energy person I ever met,” says Dave, 49, who lives in Easton, Mass. “Into her 90s, I would go places with her and I could barely keep up.”
An avid Red Sox fan, Jennie spent most of her time in her garden, according to her grandson, where she grew tomatoes, cucumbers and mushrooms. She also consistently weeded and mowed her lawn, and went out regularly to play Bingo and go shopping. She also quit smoking cold-turkey when Dave was a newborn.
“Did she lead a sedentary lifestyle?” says Dave. “Not in the slightest.”
Even though she’s now legally blind and using a wheelchair, she still manages to keep moving.
“She’s using her legs,” says Dave. “She pedals herself around [the nursing home] where she makes the rounds.”