A Hiawatha native lost her battle with COVID-19 this past week – just three days before Christmas.
Diann Mendez Windmeyer Hall was one of roughly 200 people who has died (as of Dec. 22) due to COVID-related reasons in Shawnee County since the pandemic began and one of 2,000 in the state. But her kids want the community where she grew up to know their mother is much more than a statistic.
She was a real person and her family was robbed of time with her by COVID-19.
Hall, who passed away Dec. 22 at Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka, was born Oct. 29 in Hiawatha – the daughter of Joaquin and Jessie Robidoux Mendez. She graduated from Hiawatha High School in 1970. Hall was a member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, whom she helped with bookkeeping and writing grants. She moved to Topeka in 2000 to become a caregiver for the elderly.
She married Fredrick Windmeyer in 1973, who died in 2003 as a victim in a drunk driving incident. Years later, she remarried to Ray Hall.
Windmeyer said he has lived in Charlotte, N.C. For the past 20 years, and has visited his mother frequently. When March and the pandemic came, he and his sister tried to educate his mother on the importance of being safe – getting her a mask and trying to keep her home. However, despite their efforts, Hall became sick in mid-November.
Windmeyer remembered receiving a call from his mother on Nov. 12 when she told him of a headache.
He called daily and purchased his mother an oximeter to track her oxygen levels. For the first several days she was mostly tired and had a headache, he said. By Day 8 or 9 she developed a really bad cough and Windmeyer urged her to go see the doctor. On Day 9, she went to the Emergency Room and she had developed pneumonia.
“What’s sad about COVID, you have to literally drop off your family member at the front door and she had to go in by herself,” he said. “I just picture her going to the hospital all alone.”
Nov. 22 was the day she went in to the hospital. For 2 ½ weeks, her oxygen levels had decreased and the COVID “tore up her lungs.” After several days, her condition improved and the ventilator was removed.
“She was doing well for about 3 days, they took her out of ICU and all of a sudden her organs began to fail,” Shane continued.
Hall was put back on the ventilator, along with other machines, but her condition only continued to worsen and she passed away on Dec. 22.
Hall’s physicians said she was allowed visitors toward the end — as since she had been there 30 days she wasn’t infectious with COVID any longer — mainly dealing with the effects the virus had on her body. Jennifer – who lived in Texas – was able to arrive first and Shane jumped on a plane and got to Topeka just in time to spend 4 hours with his mother before she passed away. When they arrived he said they played Christmas music, watched Hallmark movies, they brushed her hair, kissed her and held their mother’s hands during her last hours.
“In my mind I think she waited for us both to be there before she passed on,” he said.
Windmeyer said the nurses and others who care for COVID patients are angels, but it is so hard not to be with loved ones. He said hospitalized patients with COVID-19 sit there by themselves during their illnesses and are by themselves in their last hours if their condition becomes fatal.
Windmeyer wants people to take this virus seriously. Despite urging their mother to take stringent precautions, she still contracted the virus by coming contact with someone positive. He said many people who have either no symptoms, or very mild symptoms, are creating the problem because they don’t take the virus seriously. Windmeyer said he advocates for masks, as they help contain the spread of the virus.
“This isn’t just about me losing my mother – this is a deadly virus and a pandemic taking away so many people,” he said.
Windmeyer said leadership and sacrifice is needed in order to get the pandemic under control and he doesn’t understand why it’s so hard for people to see the big picture as “the pandemic is not over, by any means.”
“What COVID has shown us is there are very selfish people in our country,” he said.
Windmeyer said he loves his hometown and wants to share the story of his mother with the residents and ask them to remember the ones who have lost their lives to COVID-19.
“I want to speak out – people need to hear the pain and the sacrifice,” he said. “I love Hiawatha and I believe in the people here. If someone would just have an honest conversation with people and they would see the suffering, I think things would change.”
Windmeyer – who was in Hiawatha at Chapel Oaks Funeral Home on Monday – said he was disappointed when he learned that the county commissioners voted that morning to rescind the mask mandate that had been in effect since Nov. 16. He said at the very least, a mask mandate should not waver and community leaders should go above and beyond and suggested creating a Memorial Wall in Hiawatha and other neighboring communities to honor those who passed away due to COVID-19.
“People have to visualize it to understand it – like 9-11 – there is a wall, where people can see how many people died,” he said.
Windmeyer said the community needs to come together and be there for the families of the victims of COVID-19. He commended the City of Hiawatha for implementing a mask mandate to help keep the citizens safe.
“The city and county leaders need to lead and not cave in to pressure,” he said. “Follow the advice of the medical experts. Masks are proven to be effective.”
Windmeyer said the pandemic is not a political issue, but the people of the nation have made it one. He said the issue is about keeping yourself and others safe from a serious illness, potential death and mitigating the continued spread of COVID-19.
“Wearing a mask is not a big deal – it’s not that hard to understand why we need to,” he said. “My Mom — this wasn’t the year she was supposed to die.”
Hall was honored at services at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Chapel Oaks Funeral Home in Hiawatha. Due to the weather and concern over COVID-19, there was not a family visitation. Windmeyer said they were concerned about people gathering and so will plan a Celebration of Life at a later date.
Survivors of Hall include her husband Ray; four sisters — Delores, Josephine, Nancy and Paula, along with five brothers — Joaquin, Anthony (Tony), Alvino, Timothy and Paul. To view the full obituary go to www.chapeloaksfuneralhome.com.