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108-year-old man may be the oldest survivor of COVID-19

“I didn’t even know I had it. … I guess if I knew I had it I might have been scared.”

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At 108, Phil Corio is certainly one of the oldest people in New Mexico and the U.S.

But now the Los Ranchos resident has a new claim to fame: he just might be the oldest person in the world to survive COVID-19.

Phil’s son, 58-year-old Ron Corio, said he and his dad both got sick with the virus in March, although they didn’t know they had it until after they both recovered.

Phil said he remembers being sick and going to the hospital, but that it seemed “about the same” as having the flu.

It started with a sore throat that progressed to a severe cough and difficulty breathing. He thought it was just the flu since no COVID-19 cases had yet been reported in New Mexico.

About a week later, his father also got a bad sore throat and cough and started vomiting. On March 13, Phil fainted in the bathroom of Ron’s house.

“My dad went into the bathroom and then I heard a crash,” Ron said. “He had fainted and fell back on the floor. I found him with his eyes open but he wasn’t talking, so I called an ambulance.”

The hospital admitted Phil, diagnosed him with pneumonia and gave him antibiotics.

“I asked them to test my dad for coronavirus, but he didn’t have a fever so they said he didn’t meet the criteria,” Ron said. “He was there three days, and was next to a nearby hall that was under quarantine. I wanted to get him out of there, so I took him home and he’s gotten better since then.”

“I’m OK,” Phil said in a video interview with the Albuquerque Journal on Tuesday. “I didn’t even know I had it. … I guess if I knew I had it I might have been scared.

It took some blood tests for both men to show they did have COVID-19.

About two weeks ago, Ron got tested for coronavirus at Southwest Labs in Albuquerque, which sends people’s blood samples to the Mayo Clinic to test for virus antibodies. It came back positive, so Ron had his father and Phil’s two home caregivers tested as well. The caregivers came back negative, but Phil’s tests were “indeterminate.”

“Dad came back ‘almost positive,’ so I consulted with our doctor, who diagnosed him as positive because he was very close on the scale and had developed pneumonia, and I had already tested positive,” Ron said. “The doctor said at my father’s age his immune response is not as strong, but he diagnosed him as positive because where else would he get those antibodies? That’s how we found out we had the coronavirus.”

While there’s no way to know for certain, Phil very possibly could be the world’s oldest COVID-19 survivor. In April, a New York Post story named 107-year-old Cornelia Ras of the Netherlands as possibly the oldest to recover from the disease, and ABC News profiled 106-year-old Connie Titchen, a British woman who also weathered the illness.

This week, Phil is more tired than usual and still recovering.

Ron, meanwhile, feels back to normal, but said it was a terrible experience.

“It was the worst flu I ever had,” Ron said. “I walked to the mailbox one day when I was sick and on the way back I went into a coughing fit and was gasping for air. I almost fainted.”

This isn't the first pandemic in Phil's lifetime. He was 6 years old when the 1918 influenza pandemic broke out, but told the Journal he has no personal memories of the disease that wiped out millions of people.

Despite his age and survival of the coronavirus, Phil said he doesn’t feel very different.

“I never take any medicines, just some eye drops,” he told the Journal. “I play checkers, and I watch TV, mostly sports.”

Ron said his father needs more care now, but he was self-sufficient until 107.

“Thank God everything was fine in the end with the coronavirus and he recovered,” Ron said. “He won’t live forever, so every year is a gift. He’s a very resilient, healthy guy who just keeps going, like the Energizer Bunny.”

KOAT contributed to this story.