106-year-old COVID-19 survivor dies

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 21 Oct) – Francisco Opalla, the 106-year-old who grabbed headlines after his successful battle against with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), died of “natural causes” before dawn Wednesday.

Dr. Joselito Retuya, chief epidemiologist at the Cagayan de Oro City Health Office. Photo from the CDO Facebook page

Teodoro Sabuga-a, head of the City Social Welfare and Development Office, said the centenarian died in his sleep at home in Barangay Lumbia around 1:45 a.m.

Sabuga-a said the family did not expect that Opalla would pass away. They were even preparing a small “salo-salo” to celebrate his full recovery from COVID-19, he added.

The City Information Office has even arranged a press conference with Opalla this Saturday after his family agreed to the media event.

“Our joy and excitement was short-lived. We were excited that he defeated the virus and was an inspiration to all of us,” Mayor Oscar Moreno said.

Dr. Joselito Retuya, chief epidemiologist at the City Health Office, said Opalla died of “natural causes” as he presented reporters a copy of the result of the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRt-PCR) test showing that Opalla was no longer infected of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“He was no longer infected when we cleared him to go home,” he said.

Opalla was born on April 28, 1914 in Inabanga town, Bohol.

He survived World War 2 hiding in the caves around Barangay Lumbia where he fled from the Japanese Army.

In 2017, the City Government of Cagayan de Oro and the Department of Social Welfare and Development handed Opalla P200,000 as a centenarian awardee.

The money and plaque were delivered to his home because Opalla could no longer walk.

Jessica Mantalaba, 42, Opalla’s granddaughter who took care of him, said the old man was already despondent when he came home after spending 15 days being quarantined in a temporary treatment facility.

It took Opalla one month to defeat the SARS-CoV-2 virus, transferring from one medical facility to another, as he gradually recovered and his medical condition got better.

“My lolo was grumbling that he had become a child again and that it was time to go,” Mantalaba told MindaNews by phone.

She said Opalla had been bedridden for a long time and required constant medical care and attention.

With the COVID-19 outbreak, Mantalaba said they followed strict protocols in taking care of his grandfather, with only two of them taking turns in looking after Opalla and someone else bringing in food. She suspected that he must have been infected when a relative came for a visit and, in paying respects to the old man, approached him, grabbed his hand and placed it on his forehead.

Mantalaba said her grandfather went to sleep around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday after partaking a dinner of oatmeal and fruit juice.

She said when she checked the old man past 1 a.m., he was no longer breathing. Efforts to revive him failed. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)