Juilliard-trained pianist, heart attack survivor to turn 100

A woman of faith, a musician, a successful businesswoman and a survivor, there are many ways to describe Chepita DiNicola of Destrehan, who is just about a week away from celebrating her 100th birthday.

The middle child of three siblings growing up in Managua, Nicaragua, DiNicola first arrived in the United States to study at the Juilliard School, the prestigious performing arts school in New York where she refined her skills as a pianist – skills she developed growing up at the encouragement of her parents.

There, DiNicola discovered she loved the United States. Ultimately, she stayed and became a U.S. citizen, and today the mother of five can reflect along with her family on all the adventures she’s enjoyed over a long, interesting life.

“When she first came (to the U.S.), first arrived in New York, she loved the flight. Mom’s always loved to fly,” said her son Frank, who along with his wife Christa lives with and cares for DiNicola. “So much so that she enrolled in flight school and started taking flying lessons. My grandfather put an end to that … I actually became licensed to fly and when I was active with it, she would call me and we’d go up for a ride every now and then.”

She also has always loved horseback riding, taking after her own mother, and she was the first female in her family to drive an automobile.

DiNicola’s father was the president of the National Bank of Nicaragua, and from her parents she learned to be a skilled investor in real estate and stocks, something that’s paid dividends for her over the years.

Her father, in many ways, was her hero.

“She loves her family and loves her friends. Her biggest mentor and love was her dad,” said Frank. “She had so much respect for him. We all did. He was a leader. She made sure we were on our toes around him … we were always very close with my grandfather.”

She’s always been rather popular.

“Mom was pretty much a socialite when my siblings and I were growing up,” Frank said. “A lot of people would come by and end up at our house. We’d end up at parties and taking part in a lot of fun things with her.”

While next week brings her 100th birthday, DiNicola’s had to clear some scary hurdles this year to get to this point.

Several weeks ago, DiNicola was diagnosed with COVID-19 – through great carefulness, she and her family had managed to shield her from the illness since it began spreading in the U.S. in 2020. But after nearly four years, she finally contracted it.

“We both were sick with it … it took me about three days to shake it off, but it took her quite awhile to get through it,” said DiNicola. “We were very surprised – we were able to keep it away for a long time, making sure the kids weren’t around Mimi if they had the sniffles. But we called 911 and when they arrived, they said her oxygen was low, and they took her to the hospital.”

A larger issue arose soon after she was discharged, however.

Frank was at his son’s soccer game when he received a call from Christa – DiNicola had passed out in Christa’s arms as she was getting her mother-in-law ready for bed.

“She had a heart attack. It was a very, very scary moment,” said Frank. “She’s been the picture of health – prior to this, she hasn’t been taking any medication, nothing at all, and then it’s COVID and a heart attack.”

But DiNicola wouldn’t be kept down long at all.

After about five days at the hospital, she was sent home. It’s necessitated she be on oxygen for now, but she’s gotten stronger every day and, just a few weeks following the medical incident, her physical therapist has already released her – she’s exactly where she needs to be.

“She’s almost back to where she was before the heart attack,” said Frank.

Such might be a reality because DiNicola possesses not only a strong body, but a strong mind and will.

“She’s very spiritual,” said Frank. “She loves the Lord with all her heart. It’s her strongest trait, to me. She’s so dedicated and so devoted and that keeps her rolling.”

And even through her recent tribulations, she exudes positivity.

“This is a happy lady,” said Frank. “She never complains about anything. Doctors ask her what’s hurting and it’s ‘nothing, I’m fine.’ There’s always a smile on her face. She’s just a beautiful person.

 

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