Mayor has brief health scare with chest pains but returns to work

Tests point to digestive problems for Rawlings-Blake, who was hospitalized early Thursday

March 05, 2010|By Julie Scharper and Kelly Brewington | Baltimore Sun reporters

Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake stepped out of a black SUV shortly after being released from the hospital Thursday afternoon and teetered in stiletto heels toward City Hall.

"I guess I wore the wrong shoes to show I'm back on my feet," she said with a wry grin.

The mayor was hospitalized for 11 hours after she awoke before dawn with chest pains, numbness and dizziness. Doctors performed a battery of tests and determined that the 39-year-old was suffering from gastrointestinal difficulties, she said.

"I just need to slow down on the caffeine," she said at a brief news conference Thursday afternoon before heading to a meeting with top aides. "And I should be walking around with a bottle of water."

The mayor's husband, Kent Blake, drove her to Sinai Hospital, near their Northwest Baltimore home, about 3 a.m. Thursday after she complained that she felt as if she could pass out. She was later transferred to the University of Maryland Medical Center for evaluation.

Tests, including an EKG and a stress test, indicated the mayor was in "excellent health" and ruled out serious medical concerns such as a heart attack or a stroke, said Dr. Andrew Pollak, associate director of trauma at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

"Apparently, I'm a rock star on the stress test treadmill," she said.

Despite the pressure that Rawlings-Blake has experienced lately, it did not appear that her illness was stress-related, Pollak said.

"Certainly, with somebody who is as exposed to stress as the mayor is, you worry about that type of thing," he said. "But it really doesn't appear to be [stress-related] right now."

Stress, out of the gate
Rawlings-Blake was sworn in as mayor one month ago, after the resignation of Sheila Dixon as part of a plea deal in a criminal case.

On her second day of office, the first of an unprecedented pair of snowstorms hit the city. The storms choked the city in more than 4 feet of snow, shutting offices and snarling traffic for days. The mayor spent long hours in the emergency operations center, toured city streets and supervised the recovery.

The mayor, who is two weeks short of her 40th birthday, served on the City Council for 15 years and was its president for three years, but her responsibilities as mayor are considerably more taxing. She juggles a schedule of public appearances with time with her family, including her 6-year-old daughter.

Rawlings-Blake said she was surprised that she grew ill during a relatively quiet time rather than during the "wild and wacky" schedule she maintained during the snowstorms.

She did not take a break from her work Thursday, meeting with top aides, including her chief of staff, Sophie Dagenais, and Assistant Deputy Mayor Kaliope Parthemos, from her hospital bed. Her mother, Nina Rawlings, a retired physician, was also by her bedside, aides said.

"She hasn't stopped thinking about her priorities," said Dagenais. "She asked me to brief her on a number of meetings from yesterday."

Top aides made a point of saying that the mayor was not succumbing to stress, which one political observer said was important to maintaining her image.

Health issues can cause problems at the polls, said Matthew Crenson, a professor emeritus in political science at the Johns Hopkins University.

"It suggests that you're not fit for the job," he said. "For people who want to challenge her in 2011, this is like blood in the water."

But given the minor nature of her malady, the buzz over Rawlings-Blake's health should blow over quickly, he said.

In the meantime, the mayor should "be very visible" to show the public that she is fine, he said.

Back to normal today
Rawlings-Blake is slated to read to children at an elementary school this morning and resume her normal work schedule today, including a meeting to review Fire Department statistics, said her spokesman, Ryan O'Doherty.

O'Doherty declined to give more specific information about the mayor's ailment.

The evening before she grew ill, Rawlings-Blake dined at Corks in Federal Hill with former City Councilman Carl Stokes, who has been nominated to fill the seat vacated by Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who recently became council president.

The mayor ordered a pork chop entree and appeared "vibrant" and "upbeat" but very busy, Stokes said. She stepped away from the table for several minutes for a radio interview and left before dessert for another meeting, he said.

A tall woman, the mayor played tennis while a student at Western High School but put on weight after the birth of her daughter. She has lost a significant amount of weight since the summer.

Her father, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, died in 2003 at age 66 after a lengthy battle with bladder cancer.

Dr. Brian Kahn, a cardiologist at Mercy Medical Center, said patients admitted to the hospital for chest pain and numbness typically receive a battery of tests to determine whether the cause is heart-related, gastrointestinal or stemming from an injury that might cause sore chest muscles.

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