GREENWOOD — A local woman who was a toddler during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic is on track to survive the second pandemic of her lifetime.
Thelma Spade, 105, got her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Monday at the Hearth at Stones Crossing in Greenwood.
Growing up on a farm in Portland, Indiana, Spade’s family didn’t talk much about the Spanish flu pandemic that she can recall, because the virus didn’t touch them personally.
At the time, Indiana officials took many of the same measures they are taking during today’s coronavirus pandemic. They limited gatherings, closed businesses and encouraged mask wearing, according to the Indiana State Museum. In 1918, though, most guidance was handed down at the local level, by city and county officials, and there were fewer mandates by the governor’s office.
The Spanish flu, a variant of the H1N1 influenza virus, was more deadly to young and healthy people than the elderly, historical data shows.
Today, on the other hand, 93% of the more than 11,800 Hoosiers who have died from the virus are age 60 or older, according to Indiana State Department of Health data. In terms of both death toll and quality of life, today’s pandemic has a more profound impact on seniors, such as Spade, who was in the higher risk categories during both pandemics.
Spade’s family has again remained untouched by COVID-19, but it is front of mind this time. The 105-year-old is living away from her family at the Hearth at Stones Crossing, an assisted living and memory care facility.
For Spade, time is of the essence. Getting both doses of the vaccine means her family’s long separation can come to an end sooner rather than later, she said.
Spade is among the 93% of residents at the facility who received their second doses this week, said Megan Miller, director of nursing at The Hearth.
“Thelma defeating two major health pandemics is a testament to what an amazing person she is,” Miller said. “For her, it wasn’t a question of if she would get the vaccine, it was a question of how quickly she could get it.”
Spade is one of the lucky few with a first-floor outer facing window. Still, seeing her family through the glass during window visits is not the same, she said.
In the past year, Spade has only ventured outside the facility for medical and dental appointments, and she’s been separated from her family since March, she said.
With the vaccine, she hopes that can change quickly.
“We’ve never had anything like this before. I hope it gets over pretty soon,” Spade said. “I just miss my daughter and my grandkids.”
Because of the virus’s impact on seniors, long-term care facilities such as the Hearth had to put in place — and keep in place — strict measures to keep the virus out and protect residents. But even with those measures in place, 27 residents were infected, and eight died, state data shows.
Spade isn’t the only one eager to resume life as normal, said Jennifer Bartram, director of community relations at The Hearth. Though residents love living at The Hearth, many want their world to open back up. They want visits from family, outside activities and shopping trips, she said.
When The Hearth and other long-term care facilities will be able to allow that depends on state guidelines, Bartram said.
Both Hearth residents and staff are eager, she said.
“We are anxiously awaiting guidance on that,” Bartram said. “We have a lot of residents here who are looking to get out of here to do anything — even if it is just to go to the Dollar Tree.”