What presidents haven’t told us about their health over the years

As President Donald Trump returns to the White House after days of experimental Covid-19 treatments at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the nation remains baffled: How sick is the President of the United States?

Trump’s doctors have been reluctant to reveal too many details of his illness, even allowing him to return to the White House despite saying “he may not be quite off the hook yet.”

At 74, Trump’s age places him in one of the highest risk groups for serious, even fatal, complications of Covid-19. Obesity and high cholesterol, for which he takes a statin, also increase his risk. It is also known that the president prefers fast food and gets little exercise outside of an occasional round of golf.

Many people with Covid-19 who initially appeared to recover then took a sharp turn for the worse, requiring hospitalization and the use of ventilators. Trump doctors will be on the lookout for pneumonia, blood clots, bacterial infections, a sudden drop in oxygen levels, and other known complications of Covid-19 over the next few days or weeks.

A skeptical audience

Trump has made it clear that he does not want the nation to consider him weak or fragile before the November election, despite having a deadly disease that has killed more than a million people worldwide so far, including more than 210,000 Americans.

“I’m better now and maybe I’m immune? I do not know. But don’t let it rule your lives, ”Trump said in a video recorded upon his return to the White House.

A new CNN poll conducted while Trump was in hospital found that 69% of Americans said they had little faith in what they heard from the White House about the president’s health. Only 12% said they trusted almost everything they heard.

Considering the history of efforts to hide presidential health fears from the public, the skepticism is not surprising.

“Presidents have always been worried about showing poor health,” CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told Don Lemon Friday night.

“Woodrow Wilson had a stroke, they covered it up. FDR has covered a lot of health stuff, ”Brinkley said.

But the Americans today made it clear that they want to know the truth about their commander-in-chief’s health, he added.

“Since the 1980s, we’ve been very vigilant on medical records, tell us what’s going on, we ask to know, it’s gone … Woodrow Wilson era covers are allowed,” Brinkley said. “We, as the public, ask for more.”

Historical cover-ups

History reveals a staggering list of hidden truths when it comes to the health of American presidents.

Grover Cleveland: One of the most unusual was Grover Cleveland’s 1893 coverage of his oral cancer surgery. He sneaked a surgeon and his team onto a friend’s yacht to remove a tumor from his palate. Cleveland emerged from his “fishing trip” a week later. Nobody knew what had happened for nearly a quarter of a century.

Woodrow Wilson: Wilson He had suffered multiple strokes while serving as president of Princeton University years before running for president of the United States, Dr. Jerrold Post, co-author of “When Illness Strikes the Leader,” told CNN in a previous interview.

Elected in 1913, Wilson never disclosed his medical history to voters, said Post, who is also a professor emeritus. of psychiatry, political psychology and international affairs at George Washington University.

In 1919, during the campaign for the Treaty of Versailles, Wilson “suffered a huge stroke, but they hid it and only said he was sick and that no one had been informed,” Post said.

“So we already had the first female president, his wife Edith. In fact, he should have said, “I don’t know why you men make a fuss, I had no problem running the country while Woody was sick.”

Wilson, like Trump, also downplayed a pandemic – the highly contagious and deadly flu of 1918 – that spread among American troops during World War I and into the United States, killing 675,000 Americans and tens of millions around the world.

And Wilson, like Trump, also contracted the virus. Despite a severe cough and hallucinations, Wilson managed to hide his illness from the public.

“Wilson has never made public statements about the pandemic. Never, “said John M. Barry, author of” The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, “in a previous CNN interview.

“To keep morale high during the war, the government lied. National public health leaders said things like, “This is a normal flu with another name.” They tried to minimize it. As a result, more people have died than would have died, “Barry said.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: While the public knew that FDR used a wheelchair due to polio when he ran for the fourth time for president in 1944, they didn’t know he had advanced heart disease and hypertension, said George Annas, chair of the health law, bioethics department. and human rights at Boston University School of Public Health.

Those conditions may have contributed to the brain hemorrhage that killed him months into his last term, Annas said.

“The idea of ​​a president dying in office from an illness he knew he had before running for election or re-election doesn’t quite fit most people,” Annas said in a previous interview on CNN.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: In September 1955, Eisenhower was misdiagnosed as having a gastrointestinal problem before doctors discovered that he had indeed had a heart attack. Despite spending weeks in the hospital, White House staff initially downplayed the severity of the heart attack to the public.

Struggling against claims that he would be unfit to serve another term, Eisenhower won re-election in 1956, undergoing surgery for Crohn’s disease the same year and suffering a stroke in 1957, as reported in the press.

John F. Kennedy: At 43, JFK was the youngest man to become president. He was considered healthy and lively during his campaign, but actually came into office suffering from hypothyroidism, back pain and Addison’s disease and was on a daily dose of steroids and a host of other medications.

“Addison’s disease affects cortisol levels, the ability to manage stress,” said Dr. Connie Mariano, who served as White House physician for Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, in a previous interview with CNN.

“You wonder, was the Bay of Pigs a problem because it wasn’t properly treated for Addison?”

Kennedy also suffered from back pain throughout his life and underwent numerous back surgeries during his accession to the presidency. To cope, he wore a tightly laced back brace. A 2017 study of historical documents found that the brace may have contributed to Kennedy’s death that fateful day in Dallas in 1963: the stiff brace may have prevented him from backing up on the floor of his car after the first bullet in the killer’s neck. fitting it. for the killing blow.

“I was surprised at the depth of Kennedy’s pain,” said neurosurgeon Dr. Justin Dowdy, a co-author of the study, in a previous CNN interview.

“How long he dealt with pain despite his short life, how it affected his life and how they were able to hide most of it from the public and certainly from his political opponents,” Dowdy said.

Ronald Reagan: Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after his presidency. Whether it affected his ability to function while in office is a matter of debate. Today, however, medical science knows that Alzheimer’s begins in the brain 20 to 30 years before symptoms begin.

“Can you rely on the politician’s doctor to pinpoint these kinds of problems? Some diseases are only known by the symptoms the patient complains about, “Post said.” The softening of the mental processes that begin early in Alzheimer’s, for example, can only occur if the politician complains about it.

Mental disease?

George McGovern’s vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton had to abandon the 1972 presidential race when rumors leaked that in the 1960s he had been undergoing electroshock therapy for clinical depression. Critics questioned his ability to govern if he suffered from a recurrence of depression.

However, a 2006 study by Duke University psychiatrists applied today’s diagnostic criteria to historical records of the first 37 presidents between 1776 and 1974 and found that 18 of them met the criteria for psychiatric disorders, mainly depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or alcohol abuse and addiction.

In fact, the researchers said, 10 of the 18 presidents showed enough symptoms of mental illness while in office that it affected their ability to lead the nation.

A common theme for Trump

This isn’t the first time Trump has dodged questions about his health. While running for presidency in 2015, he dictated a brilliant letter about his physical prowess to his personal physician at the time, Dr. Harold Bornstein. The letter, which was released as a medical assessment of Trump’s health, states that “his physical strength and stamina are extraordinary.”

“If elected, Mr. Trump, I can say unequivocally, he will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency,” reads the letter signed by Bornstein.

“He dictated the entire letter. I didn’t write that letter, “Bornstein told CNN over two years later.” I just made it up as I went along.

Trump’s health updates were unpredictable while he was in office – even the results of annual medical examinations leave questions unanswered – including details about Trump’s unannounced visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last year.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s medical correspondent, wrote at the time: “As both a physician and a journalist who covered four administrations, none of this adds up, and raises the question: What do we really know about President Trump’s health?”

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