Topeka mayor shares how COVID-19 heart damage led to need for pacemaker

Mayor Michelle De La Isla
Mayor Michelle De La Isla(WIBW)
Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 1:07 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) — Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla will have a pacemaker implanted to address COVID-related heart damage.

The Mayor made the announcement in comments at the end of Tuesday night’s Topeka City Council Meeting. She said the procedure will take place Monday.

In an interview with 13 NEWS, De La Isla said a drop in heart rate and blood pressure was her first COVID-19 symptom in January - she actually passed out it in the shower. Ever since, she’s experienced periodic episodes that leave her exhausted, dizzy, and nauseous.

“The difficulty is I don’t know when it’s going to hit,” she said.

As she tried getting back into an exercise routine, she says it was apparent it wasn’t going away.

“In the last month or two, things have gotten more complicated where conversations about a pacemaker became more prevalent,” she said.

The pacemaker procedure will not be De La Isla’s first COVID-related hospitalization. De La Isla was hospitalized for six days when she was initially diagnosed in January. She spent another five days in the hospital to have her gallbladder removed after the virus attacked her gastrointestinal system. Her third hospitalization came a few weeks ago, when dizziness and nausea forced her to leave a council meeting early. She spent two days in the hospital recovering from that.

“COVID is no joke,” De La Isla told the Council in her comments Tuesday. “This post-COVID has been extremely difficult and it’s impacted my heart.”

The mayor said she was exposed to COVID-19 through a family member who was an essential worker, despite having worn her mask, maintaining social distancing and working from home. She told 13 NEWS she never expected it to hang on so long.

“Not at all - especially with all the work that I’ve done to remain healthy. I’m a runner. I ride my bike. I’m one of the healthiest people you’d come across, and I thought I was going to beat it,” she said.

De La Isla also thought she would be able to beat it since she was in the early round of people eligible for the vaccine due to her role in government and local COVID response efforts. She got her first vaccine dose a few days before her diagnosis. She didn’t realize at the time she’d already been exposed.

De La Isla joined Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, and Gov. Laura Kelly at their visit Monday to Topeka High School’s vaccination clinic. De La Isla advocated for people to get vaccinated. She says the Delta variant is hitting younger people, harder - with most of the current hospital patients people currently who are unvaccinated. If you have doubts, she says, talk to your doctor.

“I implore you so that you don’t have to go through the things that I’m going through, or losing your life or the life of somebody that you love to consider getting the vaccine,” she said. “You just don’t know. You don’t know if you’re gonna have it like the flu or if you don’t know if you’re gonna have it and you’re gonna end up in the hospital. For me, personally, it’s not a risk worth taking.”

De La Isla told the city council she will continue to be open about her situation.

“I wanted to make sure everybody in the community was aware, that I wasn’t hiding it, and that I was being transparent,” she said. “Thank you everybody for being there for me through this up and down with my heart. On Monday, this is all going to get fixed and then you’re going to have to put up with me!”

De La Isla chose not to seek a second term as mayor. She will join the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation as a managing director focused on strategy and grantmaking in the Midwest.

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