Senator Barack Obama, 47, the Democratic presidential nominee, released a one-page, undated letter from his personal physician in May stating that he was in “excellent” health. Senator John McCain, 72, is a cancer survivor, and Senator Joe Biden has had emergency surgery on a brain aneurysm.
By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN, M.D.
The New York Times
Fifteen days before the election, serious gaps remain in the public’s knowledge about the health of the presidential and vice-presidential nominees. The limited information provided by the candidates is a striking departure from recent campaigns, in which many candidates and their doctors were more forthcoming.
In past elections….
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Healthy Chief Executive? What Do We Know?
The Washington Post
Sunday, October 19, 2008; Page B03
The American public seems pretty sure that it knows everything it needs to know about whether John McCain and Barack Obama are healthy enough to be president. I’m not. And whenever I think about whether both men are fit to serve, physically speaking, I think about the sinking feeling I had one lovely spring afternoon in 2002 when an archivist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library wheeled out the cartload of files showing how badly we had all been deceived about JFK’s health.
The secret details of Kennedy’s medical history were buried in 10 beat-up old cartons of records the library had held for 40 years. Past requests for access to these materials had all been refused by a committee of loyalists that included one of JFK’s closest advisers, speechwriter Ted Sorensen. To my surprise, the committee had given me the chance to read the files; I had to agree not to photocopy them but was free to take notes or read passages into a tape recorder. Now I — along with a physician friend, Jeffrey Kelman — felt as if I were breaching a wall of secrecy. Here were not the usual neat boxes of presidential records, preserved in red-blue-and-silver-trimmed containers, but musty cardboard cartons that seemed to have sat untouched in some corner of the library since Janet Travell, one of Kennedy’s physicians, had given them to the library after JFK’s assassination in November 1963.
Between May 1955 and October 1957, Kennedy had been hospitalized nine times for a total of 44 days, including one 19-day period and two week-long stretches. Despite his public image of “vigah,” as his accent rendered it, he suffered from bouts of colitis, accompanied by abdominal pain, diarrhea and dehydration; agony in his back triggered by osteoporosis of the lumbar spine; prostatitis, marked by severe pain and urinary infections; and Addison’s disease, a form of adrenal insufficiency. Some of his difficulties, such as his back pain and Addison’s, were open secrets among the press corps during his 1960 run for the White House, but the extent and severity of his problems — to say nothing of the promiscuous variety of medications and doctors he relied upon to maintain his health — had remained undisclosed. That’s largely because the Kennedy campaign made every effort to hide his health problems — obviously convinced that these disclosures, combined with his youth and Catholicism, would sink him.