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One Sister Died of Spanish Flu, the Other of Coronavirus

Texas' Selma Ryan dies 102 years after her 5-year-old sibling
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 22, 2020 7:43 AM CDT

(Newser) – A Texas woman has died of complications from the novel coronavirus 102 years after her sister died of the Spanish Flu. Selma Ryan, who was not yet born when her 5-year-old sister, Esther Hoeffner, died in 1918, passed away Tuesday at an assisted living facility in Austin, reports KXAN. She was 96. Ryan's daughter, Vicki Spencer, learned that her mother had a fever on April 3. "Over the next five days I watched through the window as she got sicker and sicker." Spencer says family members gathered outside her mother's window to celebrate her 96th birthday on April 11. But "I knew she was critically ill," she tells WOAI. "I knew she would not survive."

Ryan died three days later on April 14. It was only then that she was tested for COVID-19, and a possible result returned. Spencer says the death adds a somber note to a family story already marked by a pandemic. The death of Ryan's sister was "a really significant and sad part of our family history," Spencer tells WOAI. "The greatest sorrow of [her parents'] life was losing their little daughter to that flu epidemic." An estimated 500 million people were infected worldwide, a tenth of whom died. Some 675,000 deaths occurred in the US. There have now been more than 825,000 coronavirus cases in the US, with more than 45,000 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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