“It was a rough week, with some bumps and turns, but they say I’m getting better, and that’s a good thing.”
Those were the initial reflections of Mayor Mitch Roth on Friday, speaking to the Tribune-Herald via phone from his room at Hilo Medical Center after suffering a heart attack in North Kohala on Jan. 9.
“I’m sitting up in a chair for the first time,” Roth said. “Right now, they’re still observing. They’re still getting me under complete control. I’m not out of the woods, but everything the doctors say looks like the numbers are getting better, so I’m very hopeful.”
The 56-year-old Roth, the former county prosecutor who was elected mayor in November and inaugurated on Dec. 7, had been in office just over a month when he was stricken.
“We were talking to a group of people in Kona,” he said. “I had finished, and we had got in the car and I was feeling, like, this chest pain. And I said, ‘Just take me to the fire station.’
“So they took me to the fire station, they put me in the ambulance (and) took me to North Hawaii (Community Hospital). They gave me medications and brought me to Hilo, and I went through some procedures here.”
Roth was taken to HMC’s Cardiac Clinic, where a stent was inserted. He praised the staff of the center and its catheterization lab, noting that prior to March 1, 2019, a case such as his would require a medevac flight to Oahu for emergency interventional catheterization.
“I was awake for all of it,” Roth said. “They wheeled me in. It was like going through a grand prix at a pit stop. They had so many people moving in and taking care of me quickly. They got rid of the blockage and they got me up in a room.
“The support here from the nurses, the staff and the doctors — I couldn’t have asked for anything more. They’ve been just fantastic.”
According to Roth, he had what he described as a “second episode” at about 3 a.m. the following day. He said it wasn’t a heart attack and described it as his heart “returning to its normal rhythm.”
“I had a pretty tough night, and so they brought me in for another procedure,” he added.
Roth said he hadn’t experienced chest pains prior to the episode in North Kohala, nor does he know when he will be discharged from the hospital or cleared to return to work.
His office said in a Friday statement that he would remain hospitalized through the weekend.
Lee Lord, Roth’s managing director who was also his business manager at the prosecutor’s office, is acting mayor while Roth is out.
“I call into the office every day for updates and just to let them know that I’m OK,” he said. “My staff has been just amazing. People were telling me about different prayer chains from across the state. People who have been praying and who have been sending me well wishes are just amazing.
“For me, it’s time to realize how blessed I really am, the relationships that I have, and that I live on this island. I’m a truly blessed man.”
A major milestone for Roth and his wife, Noriko, also occurred last week, as the couple celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary on Wednesday.
“You would think celebrating an anniversary in a hospital would be terrible. But it was really special and definitely memorable,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to spend time with my wife alone. We’ve been married for 30 years, and this is definitely our most memorable anniversary.”
The mayor described himself as “grateful” and “really blessed” for the aloha he’s received.
“I can’t even keep up with my texts and emails, and I’ve tried not to,” he said. “They want me to remain as calm as possible. But the outpouring of support has just been overwhelming.
“I’m a person who believes that there is always something positive that comes out of these situations. With every adversity, there is always an equal or greater opportunity. I think there are going to be a lot of things in my life that will be positive changes.”
After a long pause, Roth added, “I have a lot of faith, and I look forward to getting back to work.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.