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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted at 11:50 a.m., Monday, September 9, 2002

Mink remains in Straub ICU

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The medical condition of U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, now hospitalized for the second week in intensive care as she battles chicken pox and pneumonia, remains secret but doctors familiar with similar cases say the combination of illnesses can be extremely serious for a person of her age.

Mink's condition has not changed in the last three days, said Joan Manke, chief of staff for the congresswoman's Honolulu office. Mink's family has told officials at Straub Hospital & Clinic, where she has been since Aug. 30, to not release her condition or any details.

"I don't know enough to be able to tell you what the prognosis is," Manke said today. "All I can say is what they have conveyed. It is the same condition and it is being treated."

The 74-year-old Mink is seeking re-election in the 2nd congressional district.

Dr. Francis Liu, chief of infectious disease treatment for Kaiser Permanente, said chicken pox tends to hit adults harder than it does children, who typically suffer only from itchy spots for two weeks and then remain immune to the disease.

"It's the same virus, but potentially more severe in adults," Liu said. "It can affect more than just the skin. The internal organs are more likely to be involved."

Because he is not her doctor, Liu could not predict how long Mink would remain hospitalized.

"But you don't put people in intensive care who are fine," he said. "I would expect that if she is in intensive care, just like any other adult with it, she is pretty sick."

Dr. Michael Alkan, an infectious disease specialist at St. Francis Hospital, said complications from cases of adult chicken pox include lesions on internal organs.

"And the most common one is the lung," Alkan said. "It causes pneumonia. This pneumonia will attack both lungs at the same time. That will very easily give you respiratory failure, which can require oxygen."

Doctors have two main options in cases like this: antibodies made from people who have had chicken pox and antibiotics. In cases he has treated, Alkan often uses both at the same time because time is a factor.

Mink has been a public figure since she was first elected to posts in the late 1950s, when Hawai'i was a territory. She was elected to Congress for the first time in 1964.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.