Anna Milani, RN, Apheresis unit, baked a cake for patient Ola Ferla, who celebrated her 100th birthday in June.

Inspiring patient gives new meaning to the term "medical history"

Every three weeks, Ola Ferla spends a couple hours in the Smilow Cancer Hospital Apheresis unit, getting treated for a type of lymphoma. While physicians ask her questions, nurses and other staff buzz around her, taking vital signs, placing IVs and connecting Ferla to the machine that removes and treats her blood, then reintroduces it into her body.

Ferla is unfazed by any of this, perhaps because she used to be a nurse – during World War II. Ferla is the oldest patient ever treated in the Apheresis unit, so staff members weren’t about to let her 100th birthday in June go by without a small celebration. Her primary nurse, Anna Milani, RN, baked a cannoli cake, and staff, physicians, Ferla’s daughter, Sue, and her friend Phyllis Sturtevant sang “Happy Birthday.” Ferla just smiled her calm smile and thanked everyone, then got back to the business of her treatment.

“She’s a hardy woman,” Milani said. “She’s been through a lot and seen a lot.”

Ferla earned her nursing degree in the late 1930s. After World War II began, she and other nurses and Army medical officers from the 316th Station Hospital were sent to Prestwick, Scotland. There they treated soldiers wounded during the Battle of Normandy in 1944, including those from the infamous D-Day invasion.

Milani wasn’t aware of Ferla’s role in history when she began treating the Farmington resident about five years ago. In fact, she didn’t know her patient had been a nurse. But the strength and determination that allowed the young Ferla to care for those wounded during one of WWII’s bloodiest battles remains to this day, according to Sue Ferla. When Ola found out her home caregiver was trying to lose weight, she coached her through daily, three-mile walks “at Army cadence,” Sue said.

The caregiver has since lost 30 pounds.

Even at 100, Sue said, “my mother has made it her mission to do something productive.”