101-year-old survivor of two global pandemics tells story of helping others

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ABBEVILLE, Ala. (WDHN) — Imagine being born during one global pandemic, spending the majority of your life helping others, and now living through a second pandemic. Florence Mitchell is doing it after a lifetime career as a nurse through the majority of the 1900s.

Mitchell was born in Newville, Alabama, in 1918 during the Spanish Flu pandemic.

Her family reported that she may have had the flu, but she persevered through it and worked during her childhood on her family’s farm.

“Well, I did everything on the farm,” Mitchell said. “I drove a tractor. I done everything.”

After leaving the farm, Mitchell became a nurse and worked on what was called the iron lung wing, which treated patients who suffered from pulmonary issues. She also worked with patients suffering from tuberculosis.

“They would take them and put them in the iron lung and it would kind of breath for them,” niece Betty Barnes said. “So she worked in that unit for a long time in the hospital. She was a nurse for like sixty years.”

“And TB,” Barnes added. “She worked on the tuberculosis wing for years and years. In fact, she tested positive for TB several times, but she didn’t actually have it, you know.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, she wasn’t shocked to see health personnel suited up in personal protective equipment, just like she did while working in the tuberculosis wing.

“She’s done it,” Barnes said. “She’s lived through it, and when it all started I was explaining it to her, she says honey I’ve been there, done that. This too will pass. And you know, it’s something to think about.”

Florence will turn 102 on Dec. 18.

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