Beating coronavirus at 88 and 90: One Newport Beach couple’s story
After 70 years of marriage, what’s several days at the hospital with COVID-19?
Dolores, 88, and Louis Amen, 90, recently notched overcoming the coronavirus together to their lengthy list of marital accomplishments.
Dolores has a history of pneumonia. Louis recently suffered from heart problems. But with spirit, characteristic feistiness and five days at Hoag Hospital, the Amens are recovering from the novel disease.
When the couple both tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus at the end of March, their daughter, Mary Amen, 61, immediately drove to their Corona del Mar home and called the paramedics.
As she watched them being whisked away to the Hoag emergency room in Newport Beach, she wondered if that would be the last time she’d see them in person.
“I was terrified,” she said.
Hoag’s medical director of infection prevention, Dr. Philip Robinson, shared Mary’s concerns.
“As soon as I heard that they were around 90 years old, I was pretty worried about them,” he said.
Then he laughed.
“But when I went down to the emergency room and met them in person,” Robinson said, “I realized that you could probably cut their age in half, which was their true age.”
The hospital arranged for the couple — married 70 years on Feb. 18 — to room together. Dolores said she “wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
“Oh, it was wonderful,” she said. “I got to watch him 24/7, see if he went to the bathroom or he was sleeping or he was sitting up straight.”
Louis, founder of the eight-store grocery chain Super A Foods, usually started his days at Hoag tapping out orders to his employees — four of whom are their children. When he wasn’t keeping up his grocery business — which got slammed during the pandemic — he slept.
“The next day, I go in and see them and he’s on his phone running his grocery chain business and she’s sitting up bolt straight in bed. … First thing she said: ‘You know, Dr. Robinson, you told me that I’m not supposed to get pregnant but because I didn’t get the drug last night — we tried.’”
Dr. Philip Robinson, Hoag’s medical director of infection prevention
Dolores, on the next bed over, got bored easily. In a recent interview, she ticked off the names of different nurses she had befriended, as well as their upcoming wedding and baby due dates.
“I just was watching what was going on and talking to all the nurses,” she said. “Where are you from? Are you married?
“Do you need life insurance?” she said, adding that one of her daughters sells life insurance.
Dolores and Louis kept each other company.
“One time, he looked over at me and he said, ‘I love you,’” she remembered.
Dolores agreed to enroll in a clinical trial for remdesivir, an experimental drug that may lower the risk of death or improve conditions for severely ill COVID-positive patients.
One of the requirements for the study is not to get pregnant or get anyone else pregnant for 28 days, Robinson said. He asked Dolores to agree to the requirement by signing paperwork.
“She thought that was about the funniest thing she had ever heard,” Robinson recalled. “The next day, I go in and see them and he’s on his phone running his grocery chain business and she’s sitting up bolt straight in bed. … First thing she said: ‘You know, Dr. Robinson, you told me that I’m not supposed to get pregnant but because I didn’t get the drug last night — we tried.'"
Meanwhile, Mary and her six siblings text messaged daily updates about their parents, in addition to calling and FaceTiming. They sanitized their parents’ home and arranged for Chris Van Tassel, Mary’s fiance, to spend a few hours a week caregiving for the couple once they returned home.
As of last Wednesday, Hoag had diagnosed 99 COVID patients, 64 of which had been admitted to the hospital. Since treating its first COVID patient in January, Hoag has been working around the clock to prepare for the uptick in coronavirus patients, Robinson said.
Hoag Hospital, which has locations in Newport Beach and Irvine, is experimenting with a federally approved investigational treatment and has already treated its first COVID-19 patient using “convalescent plasma.”
The Amens’ presence sent a positive vibe throughout the hospital. The couple’s feisty humor quickly earned them the friendship of nearly the entire 10th floor care staff, Robinson said.
“You could just see that it gave everybody that extra needed boost of energy and some hope that we’re all going to come through this together,” Robinson said.
Dolores hopes to soon return to her routine of driving to Indian Wells to golf or gamble.
Until then, the couple continues to regain strength at home. Louis works around his garden, clipping roses to give to his doctor. Dolores makes her husband tea and oatmeal with raisins for breakfast.
“I told him today when I took out the trash: he better get better!” Dolores said.