Isabelle Papadimitriou, born and raised in Brownsville, passed away on the 4th of July. She tested positive for COVID-19 only five days prior after developing symptoms including dizziness, lightheadedness, chills, body aches, a headache, shaking, and drowsiness.
The 64-year-old respiratory therapist likely contracted the virus at the hospital where she worked, according to her daughter, Fiana Garza Tulip, who made news this week when she penned a letter to Governor Greg Abbott critical of his decision to lift restrictions statewide.
She started by inviting the politician to her mother’s funeral to witness first-hand how his policies are leading to death.
“My mother likely contracted the virus at the hospital where she worked during the period when you forbade local governments from implementing their own safety measures, such as mandating the wearing of masks, to protect the public and healthcare workers from the spread of COVID-19 through Executive Order No. GA-18,” she wrote.
“There is no doubt that poor policy and terrible leadership was responsible for her death. States around the country, and countries around the world have managed to slow their spread by implementing simple policy measures such as mask-wearing.”
Tulip said her mother began displaying symptoms on Sunday, June 28 after she returned home from her shift. Papadimitriou had been journaling about her symptoms the day before, spent two days attempting to access testing, and confirmed her positive status on June 29.
Her last entry was on July 2, in which she wrote, “Still not feeling well today. I have lots of coughing this morning. Feel weak.”
The day prior, Papadimitriou wrote that she could barely eat, had a fever of 102 degrees, and rotated to drain the lungs — side to side and stomach to back. She was afraid to go to the hospital, knowing they were at capacity.
“Unfortunately, by the time my brother called the ambulance to help her, it was too late,” wrote Tulip.
Papadimitriou’s rehab unit at a hospital in Dallas initially treated COVID-19 recoveries, but began accepting overflow patients when cases spiked in Dallas this month.
Her daughter said on Monday, “My mother died saving lives. I firmly believe she didn’t have to. Behind every death is a person. It could be your mom; it could be somebody else’s grandmother. It’s not just about you. It’s about working together to fight this thing, ensuring that we save lives.”
Tulip’s mother was fearful that she might become infected describing an interaction with a patient’s visiting family member that refused to wear a mask.
“The daughter refused to wear a mask because she said if her president doesn’t wear one, she doesn’t have to. It scared my mom because she was putting her life at risk.”
Tulip described her mother as very loving and sweet, having a special relationship with her 11-month old daughter Lua, who Papadimitriou met only twice. She had plans to visit in June, then in August, but as cases spiked, she had to postpone.
Papadimitriou is said to have loved her profession, shining kindness and generosity onto both loved ones and patients. She was set to retire from her 30-year run as a respiratory therapist after one more year.
Even after her death, gifts kept coming — first in the form of a pair of shoes she ordered for Lua prior to her passing on the 4th, and again in the form of messages from current and former patients who loved her spirit.
Asked what the community can do, Tulip said, “We can take this seriously, come together, and not be so reckless with our own lives, with other people’s lives, and with healthcare workers’ lives. The healthcare workers are bravely living in a constant state of fear every day right now. We need to protect them. They’re doing everything they can to protect us and to save us.”
Papadimitriou will be memorialized at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on 13555 Hillcrest Road in Dallas on Thursday, July 23 at 2:30 p.m. After the memorial, she will be transported to Brownsville to be put to rest in her hometown at Roselawn Memorial Gardens, 4464 Old Port Isabel Road on July 27 at 2:00 p.m.
A GoFundMe page set up to cover her funeral costs has exceeded its goal by over $2,000 and is viewable at https://www.gofundme.com/f/isabellepapamemorialfund
Governor Greg Abbott’s office was contacted for comment.