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104-year-old veteran gets first Covid-19 inoculation

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Sam Grochow was just learning how to walk and talk when the world plunged into the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. Then, in 1933, at age 17, he contracted typhoid fever and was bedridden for almost three months.

“He lived though a bunch of medical issues,” said Grochow’s son, Jerry. “He’s damn lucky to have survived.”

The 104-year-old received his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine last Sunday in his apartment at the Bristal assisted-living community in East Meadow. He is one of nearly 100 residents taking part in the Bristal’s vaccination program, a partnership with CVS and Walgreens.

Grochow recounted a conversation he had with one of his aides who told him she was apprehensive about getting the inoculation. “I said, ‘If you’re not worried about yourself, do it for your family,’” he said. “I think I changed her mind.”

Jerry Grochow, 74, who lives in Boston, described his father as someone who “has always been interested in helping out and doing community service.” 

The elder Grochow grew up in a working-class family in Jersey City, and was the only one of three children in his family to go to college. He earned a dental degree at NYU before joining the U.S. Army, with which he spent 18 months stationed in Italy. After he returned to the states, he opened a dental practice in Jersey City and started a family with his wife, Frances. The couple moved into the Bristal seven years ago, and Frances died in 2014, at age 94.

“None of us have been able to visit him since March,” Jerry said, “It’s been pretty hard.”

The Bristal closes its common areas and bans in-person visits when an employee tests positive for the virus. Residents self-isolate in their rooms, and see other people only when employees bring them food or medication.

“But I use my iPad regularly,” Grochow said. “I use it to check my stocks. I bought stock in Disney 50 years ago.”

Grochow also uses the iPad to FaceTime with Jerry and the rest of his family. Jerry and his wife have a daughter, Rebecca Grochow Mishuris, who has three children, and a son Josh, who lives in Superior, Colorado and has two children. Grochow's other son, Robert, 70, is a lawyer who lives in Westbury, and has two children, Jaimie Bornstein and David Grochow, and four grandchildren, in the Dix Hills area. 

Sam joined Jerry and Rebecca on a phone interview with the Herald to talk about getting the vaccine. “Grandpa, I don’t know if I’m more excited about it or you are,” Rebecca said.

Rebecca is the chief medical information officer at Boston Medical Center, the largest “safety net” hospital in New England, and an assistant professor at Boston University Medical School. “From March to May, we were the hardest-hit hospital in the area,” she said. “We became a Covid hospital and moved the vast majority of our outpatient care to telemedicine, which I was in charge of.”

She has two children in first and second grade and another child in pre-K. “We haven’t been anywhere — we take social distancing very seriously,” she said, adding that her family gets groceries delivered and her children leave the house only for school.

“When you see a few patients with Covid, you realize you don’t want to get it,” Jerry said. “No matter what age you are, it’s not something to be trifled with.”

“I can’t imagine the guilt I would feel if I passed it on to my parents or grandpa,” Rebecca said. “People have to be a little altruistic. Yes, it’s about your own health, but it’s also about others.”

She had her first dose of the vaccine two weeks earlier, she said, and was scheduled to receive her second in another week. “I only had a sore arm that day, like any other vaccination,” she said.

“I didn’t feel a thing!” her grandfather said with a soft chuckle.

“I hope we can all get vaccinated so we can spend his 105th birthday in person,” Jerry said, noting that they celebrated his 104th birthday on FaceTime in August.

Jerry, the recently retired vice president of computer technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was still waiting for the chance to be vaccinated, because Massachusetts is still in the early stages of distribution.

“This is our way out of the pandemic,” Rebecca said. “This is how we get our economy back. This is how families get to see each other again. This is how we get to travel again. This is how everything goes back to the way it was.”