On 107th birthday, St. Louis man is oldest in United States to beat COVID-19

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Rudi Heider celebrates his 107th birthday and his successful recovery in beating COVID-19.

A 107-year old Chesterfield resident is believed to be the oldest patient in the United States and one of the oldest in the world to recover from the coronavirus.

Rudi Heider celebrated his “miraculous” COVID-19 recovery on his 107th birthday, April 29, when he first met all the benchmarks for recovery from the respiratory illness. He is believed to be the oldest individual in the United States to contract COVID-19 and survive, and he is also among the oldest people in the world to survive the deadly virus. 

Heider is a resident of Friendship Village–Chesterfield’s Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where the nurses on staff treated him for the virus. The assisted living center and senior-living facility is currently locked down to visitors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among residents and employees.

Being able to go back to his room and sleep in his own bed was just the start of Heider’s exciting birthday, which he summed up by wearing a T-shirt that read “Today I celebrated my 107th birthday and beat COVID-19.” 

He received his usual birthday gifts like a slice of his favorite dessert, lemon meringue pie, along with balloons and cards. But being able to celebrate with his family was the highlight: His son Robert and granddaughter Janet were allowed to gather outside his apartment window at the community.

Granddaughter Janet Heider is a resident of the Seattle area. When Heider went through a period when he didn’t think he would survive the disease, his granddaughter reminded him how far he’s come and what a fighter he is.

“He is amazing,” Janet Heider said. “I had to tell him that he’s lived through the Spanish Flu, two World Wars, a stroke at 100 years old, and a fractured vertebra at 104 years old and that he would not lose to COVID-19, and he ended up beating it.  I made him promise me if he thought he was going to die to call me, I would fly there to hold his hand so he didn’t have to die alone…. I told him, ‘God has plans for you.’ I told him, ‘You’ve overcome so much,’ so you’re not done yet.”

Not only is Heider glad to be back in his room regaining strength, but he is happy to be surrounded by his caregivers and especially the sweaters that his late wife, Lorraine, knitted for him, which he still wears. She died in 2000, after they had been married 61 years. She knitted the sweaters for him in Guadalajara, Mexico, where they would spend their winters.

The new 107-year-old looks forward to getting his strength back so he can go back to reading about politics, financial journals and similar “sexy stories,” he said jokingly.

“I don’t know why I was allowed to survive (COVID-19) when others weren’t,” Heider said.

But he is living for today. He learned ballroom dancing a few years ago at 104 because his girlfriend, who also lives at Friendship Village Chesterfield, wanted to dance with him.

When asked if he had any words of wisdom, he offered simply, “Hello. How are you?” He chose them because that’s how you meet people. And Heider says he really misses people. 

“I’m really missing all of the nice things from people because of this disease. Each person is so different. I like people and all their different talents,” Heider said as he looks forward to the day he is able to be with family and others again.

When Janet visits Rudi, she said she always sings “You are My Sunshine” through the door before she even knocks. He calls her his “Sunshine.”

The elder Heider proved to himself and everyone around him how much of a fighter he truly is. However, he will, unfortunately, have to wait a little longer until he can celebrate in person with Janet and the rest of his family due to safety protocols in place.

Neither can wait for the day of that very special visit when Rudi gets to hug his “Sunshine” again.

St. Louis television station KSDK Channel 5 News reached out to the senior living community to hold a phone interview with Heider outside his window. To watch his interview with KSDK on Friendship Village’s YouTube channel, click here.

To see how Friendship Village is helping keep their residents well during the COVID-19 pandemic visit FriendshipVillageSTL.com/Covid19 and to learn more about Heider’s miraculous journey and recovery visit Friendship Village’s website here.