Idaho legislator under fire for sharing post raising questions about nurse’s COVID-19 death

Tammy Nichols, a Republican representing Middleton in the Idaho House, shared a Facebook post implying that the death of Samantha Hickey, a Caldwell pediatric nurse practitioner, from complications of COVID-19 was a hoax spread by the media to scare people. | Idaho Statesman

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — A Treasure Valley state legislator is under fire from local health system employees after she shared a Facebook post about a Caldwell pediatric nurse practitioner who died from complications of COVID-19.

The post, which Rep. Tammy Nichols, a Middleton Republican, shared Wednesday without comment, pointed out that Samantha Hickey, who died two weeks ago at 45, suffered a cardiac complication of COVID-19. The Facebook post by Cate Tedeski implied that Hickey’s death was somehow being misrepresented by the news media to scare the public.

It linked to an Idaho Statesman story that reported how Hickey, who worked for St. Luke’s Health System, died of a heart attack after contracting the coronavirus.

RELATED: St. Luke’s nurse practitioner dies from COVID-19 complications in Boise

Robb Hickey, the Caldwell nurse practitioner’s husband, this week described what happened to Samantha and clarified that she had myocarditis, a cardiac complication of COVID-19.

Samantha Hickey endured a range of symptoms the week she got sick. Shortly before she died, she asked Robb to take her to the hospital because she thought she was becoming dangerously dehydrated. As doctors ran tests on her, they found some concerning signs of problems with her heart and wanted to get a closer look.

“Unfortunately, in the interim, as they were preparing to transfer her, her blood pressure bottomed out,” Robb Hickey said.

Samantha Hickey’s heart showed no blockages from blood clots or plaque, which can cause heart attacks. Instead, he said, “the virus had set up shop in the muscle of her heart (and caused) myocarditis. It just attacked the muscles and the cells of the muscles. … She just could not come past that.”

Last Monday at 4:30 a.m., one week after she first became ill, “she succumbed to the effects on her heart muscle and died,” Robb Hickey said.

NICHOLS SAYS SHE DIDN’T READ THE NEWS STORY

The post Nichols shared was propagating a conspiracy theory about the COVID-19 pandemic. The conspiracy theory stems from ignorance about the course of the COVID-19 disease and the damage that physicians, nurses and medical scientists have seen it do to the human body.

“Watching the News this morning they were talking about the Idaho nurse who ‘died of COVID’ not one word about the FACT she died of a heart attack,” Tedeski wrote. Even the Idaho Statesman eludes that it was the heart attack that killed her. Yet even they are trying to use her death to scare us. Read the whole article. The mainstream news both local & national is nothing but lies!”

Screenshots of Nichols’s Facebook post were shared on Twitter, where people including St. Luke’s former CEO and its current spokesperson criticized it.

“I am at a loss for words right now except the ones I can’t say in front of my son,” said Anita Kissée, the St. Luke’s spokesperson, in a tweet from her private account.

Dr. David Pate, the retired president and CEO of St. Luke’s Health System, quoted Kissée’s tweet, saying “I don’t think I have said a bad word this year … until now.”

Samantha Hickey

Pate tweeted his full thoughts, as well, on Wednesday night:

“If this is true, this is outrageous and absolutely cruel towards the family of our beloved employee. First of all, the article clearly states that her cardiac issues were a complication of COVID. Secondly, the family’s one wish was that Samantha Hickey’s death not be in vain. They asked that in her memory, people take COVID seriously & wear masks. To then dishonor this loving family, our employee, and someone who risked her life to care for others by suggesting or stating that COVID is a hoax is detestable, offensive, insensitive, outrageous, irresponsible, and just absolutely mean-spirited. If this is true (I don’t use Facebook), then Rep. Nichols you owe this family an apology for the affront to Samantha’s memory and your constituents an apology for inappropriate comments, poor leadership and disrespect of a fellow Idahoan.”

COVID-19 typically comes with symptoms including fever and cough, but research has shown that the virus also goes after the cardiovascular system. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated a relationship between COVID-19 and deaths from cardiac arrest.

Hickey’s family asked that her death “not be in vain, but to serve as a stark reminder that people must do whatever they can to protect themselves and others and take this pandemic seriously,” the health system said in a news release last week.

Nichols told the Statesman that she shared the post on her private Facebook account so she could look at it later when she had time. She did, however, leave a comment on Tedeski’s original post about the story on Wednesday, writing, “So she died with covid as opposed from covid.”

In an email Thursday, Nichols told the Statesman, “My understanding is that dying from Covid is that there were no other underlying health issues or circumstances, dying with Covid is that there were other health issues or circumstances involved.”

The post no longer appeared publicly on her page Thursday morning, although Nichols said in the email that she did not delete it.

“I am not sure what happened to it. Evidently, someone wanted to try to make an issue out of something, when the reality is that I posted it so that it was easy for me to find and look into later,” she said.

Nichols’ posts across Facebook and other social media platforms show a repeated skepticism about the virus and steps suggested by health professionals to try to stop its spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical experts around the country say wearing masks could help slow the spread of COVID-19. Gov. Brad Little and Idaho health leaders urge people to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash hands frequently.

But resistance remains. The Southwest District Board of Health on Thursday declined to put a mask mandate in place as opponents booed talk of a mandate at a board meeting in Caldwell, and even booed the recommendation to wear one. Canyon County had 3,473 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday evening.

Canyon County, where Nichols’ district is, is second only to Ada County for the most cases in the state.