101-year-old man beats COVID-19, celebrates birthday at Minneapolis VA


It was a rare, bright moment on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle on Tuesday. The medical staff at the VA in Minneapolis marked Sammy Nilva’s 101st birthday before sending him home with his symptoms no longer requiring hospitalization.

"It's days like today that really keep our spirits up because it’s so nice to hear people are getting better and able to recover at home," said nurse Breena Eam.

"I am worried," said Nilva's daughter Barbara Nevin. "But I do have a lot of faith in the healthcare in this country."

Nevin calls her father a survivor.

"My dad is part of that Greatest Generation," she said. "By hopefully beating this virus. Again, he is showing why he is the Greatest Generation."

Nilva was born on April, 29, 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic. He served his country in World War II and subsequently owned and managed his own amusement business in the Twin Cities for some three decades.

In addition to his recent coronavirus diagnosis, he also recovered from a delicate, life-saving brain surgery just 18 months ago.

"I think he definitely has good genetics," said Nevin. "And he’s lived an amazingly clean life. He never smoked. He didn’t drink much. He really took care of himself."

Sadly, for Nevin and her family, because of COVID-19 and current visitor restrictions at her dad's assisted living facility in Saint Louis Park, there will be no birthday hugs for the 101st milestone.

But they are so grateful for the VA's efforts to make this week so special.

"Bittersweet is a really good word," she said. "I’m thrilled he’s alive. And I’m thrilled he is beating this terrible virus. But the worst thing is I can’t put my arms around him and kiss him. He’s a very lovable guy. I adore him."

The two were able to share a very special phone call where her whole office sang happy birthday. She also sent along one of his favorite dinners tonight. That’s walleye, mashed potatoes, and birthday cake.

Nevin is now looking forward to the day she can swing in and visit her dad to bring him a donut on her way to the office -- something she did every day before the coronavirus changed everything.