RICHMOND -- Days after at least two major head surgeries, City Council-elect Gary Bell's condition is a mystery to the public and even close friends and supporters.
Staff at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Redwood City, where Bell was rushed Nov. 10 for neurosurgery, said Thursday they had no patient named Gary Bell but would not specifically say Bell was no longer in their care.
Bell was struck with an unknown type of meningitis in the weeks before his Nov. 6 election, according to friends and associates. He was hospitalized in the days before his election, then released before being rushed back to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Richmond on the afternoon of Nov. 10.
After several hours there, doctors decided to have Bell taken to Redwood City, home to the Neuroscience Center that provides specialized neurological care to Kaiser members from all of Northern California. His wife and one of his adult sons were by his side.
Between Nov. 10 and Nov. 12, Bell had two major surgeries, likely to relieve swelling in his brain, according to a Nov. 12 Facebook post by his campaign coordinator, Angela Smith.
Smith on Friday said she had no updates on Bell's condition and could not confirm whether he was still in Redwood City.
"I told (Bell's wife) Shelley that I am there for anything they need," Smith said. "But they just really value their privacy right now."
Bell, 54, was elected to the City Council on Nov. 6 with just over 15 percent of the vote, earning him the third and final available seat. Incumbents Nat Bates and Tom Butt were re-elected, meaning Bell is set to be sworn in as the only new council member Jan. 8.
While little is known about Bell's condition and prognosis, more details have emerged about the last days of his campaign. During that time, friends and observers say, Bell became progressively more ill but continued to campaign hard in pursuit of elective office.
"It was around Halloween he was catching a cold, it seemed like the flu," Smith said. "We were out knocking on doors that night and he wasn't feeling well at all, but he managed to present himself well when he spoke to people."
Smith said Bell filmed a commercial a few days before the election. He looked increasingly unwell on camera and his voice faltered, Smith said.
Finally, Bell checked himself into the hospital, Smith said. He was diagnosed with meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord, most often caused by infection with a virus or a bacterium.
But on election night, Bell couldn't be confined to his hospital bed. His long-planned victory party was drawing a big crowd at Salute E Vita Ristorante, and Bell couldn't bear the thought of letting down his supporters, Smith said.
"He told the doctor 'I set this up, I have to go,'" Smith said. "So he checked himself out and went to the restaurant."
Once there, a well-dressed but visibly weakened Bell thanked the crowd and broke the news of his illness.
"He said he had viral meningitis and that he would have to go back to the hospital," said Avni Nijhawan, a reporter with Richmond Confidential, a nonprofit news website. "That news was met with some raised eyebrows."
Nijhawan added that Bell seemed "lethargic," and didn't visibly react to news that President Barack Obama had won re-election.
"He stayed about an hour," Nijhawan said. "He mentioned that he had a headache."
Bell is president and CEO of Cooperative Federal Credit Union in Berkeley. He was first elected to the Richmond City Council in 1999, serving one term. In 2006, he ran for mayor in Richmond, losing in a tight three-way race with Gayle McLaughlin and incumbent Irma Anderson.
"Gary's family just asks for the public's continued prayer," Smith said.