Two different pandemics. Two separate centuries. And for two sisters who never met, the same fate.
Selma Esther Ryan, 96, died Tuesday in Austin, Texas, as a result of COVD-19, more than 100 years after a sister she never knew died in the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, according to KXAN-TV.
Ryan was born April 11, 1924, in Hurnville, Texas, near the Oklahoma border.
Her sister, Esther Hoeffner, died in the Spanish flu pandemic 102 years ago.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Spanish flu infected about 500 million people, about a third of the globe’s population at the time. It killed about 50 million people, with 675,000 deaths in the United States.
People wait in line to get flu #masks on Montgomery Street in San Francisco in 1918. (Hamilton Henry Dobbin / California State Library)#COVID19 #pandemic #spanishflu #1918influenza pic.twitter.com/wwHCVkDBur
— La femme merveilleuse invisible (@larwoolf) April 20, 2020
The Spanish flu was the deadliest for children under age 5, apparently healthy adults 20 to 40 years old, and those 65 years and older, according to the CDC.
That’s different from COVID-19, which has the highest mortality rate among older residents and those who are already dealing with other health issues.
Ryan had been living in an assisted living facility in Austin for three years, her daughter, Vicki, told KXAN.
She had previously lived in the San Antonio area.
“On April 3, I got a call from the facility that five residents, including my mother, were running a temperature,” Vicki said.
“Over the next five days, I watched through the window as she got sicker and sicker. It was so hard to not be with her. Her 96th birthday was April 11. Our family gathered outside her window, but it was obvious that something terrible had happened.”
Ryan was tested for COVID-19 after her death, and her infection was confirmed.
— KXAN News (@KXAN_News) April 17, 2020
Ryan’s obituary noted the death of her sister more than a century ago.
“On the cold January day that Esther was buried, Selma’s mother gave birth to twin brothers, Karl and Victor. Selma came along five years later and adored her big brothers,” the obituary said.
It noted one highlight of Ryan’s life as an Air Force wife when her late husband, Robert “Bud” Ryan, was stationed in Ethiopia.
“While the family was in Ethiopia, there was a coup d’etat when the bodyguard of Haile Selassie tried to take over,” the obituary said. “Bud was gone from the home to help the Ethiopian Air Force put down the rebellion. Selma took care of the kids and kept them calm while her home was in the crossfire between the rebels and the loyalists.
“She welcomed neighbors whose homes were more exposed than her home, and taught everyone to hit the ground when gunfire started. There were many bullets lodged in her home. She dug one out and had it gold-plated for her charm bracelet.”
The obituary painted this picture or Ryan: “One friend said she was an epitome of a lovely lady. She excelled in the game of Bridge, gardening, cooking, and many other things. She created lovely works of art with counted cross stitching. She loved the Lord and was active in her church.
“At Barton Hills Assisted Living, where she lived the last three years of her life, she sang hymns with a lovely lady who came each week. She still had a beautiful voice and knew most of the hymns by heart.”
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