The disease can pose a greater threat to older patients with underlying health conditions, so her diagnosis was more frightful. But after a weeklong stay at the hospital, the Coral Springs woman has overcome the odds to survive, surprising even her doctor. She recently returned home.
“She’s very special. She’s a tough lady," said Dr. Mike Perl, of Margate. "I wouldn’t have bet she’d come out. But the guy upstairs didn’t want her yet. She’s a miracle.”
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In addition to her age, Boccard has several underlying health issues. Boccard has only one kidney after her bout with kidney cancer in 2005. She uses a wheelchair because of knee problems. She has ailments that put her in the at-risk category, such as “diabetes, heart disease — she has it all,” Perl said.
Boccard recovered in a state where 92 percent of all coronavirus deaths have been above the age of 65, and in Broward County, where 87 percent of all fatalities have had chronic diseases. Experts say her survival is a testament to how little we actually know about the deadly new disease. “She is the oldest one I know from my group that has survived this," Perl said, referring to his group of patients.
Boccard, a spunky woman with tufts of shock-white hair, was an office manager for a funeral home for nearly 30 years in Miami Shores, and a widow to a former commissioner and mayor of the village of El Portal, which is near Miami Shores, for 20 years.
“My mom is sharp as a tack," her son, Vincent “Vince” Boccard, said. "She can tell you all current news. She gets all dressed up for the Miami Heat games and bangs pots and pans when they score.”
About three weeks ago, she had a couple of routine doctor’s appointments and a round of errands. The following week, she said she was starting to get sick: a runny nose and some typical flu-like symptoms. Soon she was bedridden and coughing.
“I didn’t even realize I had it," she said. "I was very sleepy, I couldn’t stay awake.”
Vince Boccard, a former Coral Springs mayor, decided to escalate medical care, but when her caretaker found her on the floor and called 911, her trip to the emergency room happened faster than they expected. She was hospitalized April 1, being placed in the intensive care unit with a private room at Broward Health Coral Springs.
“I want to get out of here, the food is terrible,” she told her son. “And I get no sleep because they’re always coming in and looking at me.”
Perl said she was treated with hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, and azithromycin, an antibiotic often referred to as a Z-Pak. She never needed a ventilator, but stayed on oxygen, which she was using anyway for a heart condition.
But it’s unclear exactly what ultimately helped her. Several factors might have influenced Boccard’s unlikely success against the virus, including just how much virus Boccard was exposed to at the time of infection, said Dr. Aileen Marty, a professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University. A lighter exposure to the virus could make it easier to beat.
Medications she was already taking for her existing chronic conditions might have improved her chances of fighting the virus off as well. “We also have to look at how active she’s been,” said Marty, pointing at the difference between biological and calendar age.
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Marty also questioned if Boccard might not have successfully fought off other coronaviruses, genetic cousins of COVID-19, in the past. Winning those fights might mean she had some antibodies capable of targeting the new coronavirus, giving her an upper hand.
Boccard’s case shows that coronavirus is “absolutely not” a guaranteed death sentence, said Dr. Johannes Vieweg, the dean of Nova Southeastern University’s medical school, the Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Allopathic Medicine.
Vieweg said although pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and cancer can lower the likelihood of surviving the coronavirus, “there are always exceptions to the rule. In medicine there is no absolute truth. It is about frequency and statistics.”
Boccard spent seven days at the hospital. She was discharged Wednesday to go back to her Coral Springs home, where her family fed her her food of choice: french fries.
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