The feeding frenzy around the question of whether Governor Chris Christie will toss his hat into the presidential ring has come down to the question of when health considerations should disqualify someone from being US President. In scouring the Web for information, I came upon a compilation called, "Medical History of Presidents," and as a refresher, here are a few presidential health extracts.
George Washington : From the age of 17 , he had recurrent attacks of malaria. He also had small pox and recurring tuberculous pleurisy. He had a tendency to become depressed when ill and was haunted by premonitions of death. Thomas Jefferson wrote that
James Monroe : Contracted malaria while visiting a swampy are of the
in 1785, and became very ill. He had several episodes of fever later in life, which were probably flare-ups of malaria. Mississippi River
Abraham Lincoln : Did
have cancer? Lincoln began losing weight in 1860. There is no data about his weight after becoming President, but many people wrote of his declining appearance and increasing thinness. Casts of his face in 1860 and 1865 show a striking loss of soft tissue. Temporal wasting is present on the 1865 cast. In his last months, Lincoln had headaches, cold feet and hands, exercise intolerance and sweating, pervasive fatigue that a work respite did not ease, fainting, and nausea. These findings are compatible with a pheochromocytoma cancer. Lincoln
: On June 13, 1893, Cleveland noticed a "rough place" on the roof of his mouth. It was diagnosed as cancer, precipitating one of the most celebrated incidents in the history of Presidential medicine. On July 1, the President underwent a risky operation aboard his yacht. At his insistence, his illness and surgery were kept secret from the public, the press, the Cabinet, and probably the Vice President. A second, less risky operation was performed aboard the yacht on July 17. Afterwards, direct questions about the President's health were answered falsely. "Cleveland is alleged to have said that he had done more lying in the period just before his surgery and the period immediately thereafter than he had ever done in the remainder of his life." It was 25 years before the secret was compromised. Cleveland
William Howard Taft : Not much can be said about Taft's health without saying a great deal about his size. By age 48, when he had been Secretary of War for two years, he weighed
. He weighed 335- 320 pounds when he left the White House. By spring 1929, when he was 71, it was widely known that Taft's health was not good. Rumors occasionally arose that he might retire as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Sick as he was, Taft desperately wanted to hold his place on the Court. "I am older and slower and less acute and more confused," he wrote to his brother in November 1929. "However, as long as things continue as they are, and I am able to answer in my place, I must stay on the court in order to prevent the Bolsheviki from getting control." Taft finally resigned from the Supreme Court on February 3, 1930. Two doctors issued the following bulletin: "For some years Chief Justice Taft has had a very high blood pressure, associated with general arteriosclerosis and myocarditis. ... He has no fevers and suffers no pain. His present serious condition is the result of general arteriosclerotic changes." After lingering in a coma, he died on March 8. 340 pounds
's train journeys were limited to Roosevelt per hour to minimize his discomfort from the vibration of the car. Two independent lines of evidence suggest FDR had a malignant melanoma excised while in the White House: Between 1920 and 1932 FDR developed an enlarging pigmented lesion above his left eye. This lesion vanished between 1940 and 1944, leaving a scar and a sparse lateral eyebrow. An older surgeon, still living in the 35 miles area in 2003, claims to have seen the melanoma in the pathology department at Boston while an intern. According to this surgeon "FBI men" sequestered the sample in the safe of a Boston-area company." Beth Israel-Deaconess Hospital
John Fitzgerald Kennedy : Kennedy's Addisonism was diagnosed in 1947 by a physician in
. Kennedy had probably been suffering from the disease for years, if not decades. After the diagnosis, he was given less than a year to live. He was so ill during the sea voyage home from London , in October 1947, that he was given the last rites. Yet, during the 1960 presidential race, the JFK campaign flatly denied that JFK had England disease. The Kennedy campaign used a very narrow definition of Addision disease, namely, insufficiency of the adrenal glands caused by tuberculosis. This was deliberate, calculated, and grossly misleading. Some historians have called it undoubtedly one of the most clever smoke screens ever placed around a politician. Adrenal insufficiency, no matter how caused, is a serious matter. Addison
So, dear readers, when we hear reporters vigorously defending the right of the American people to have a President absolutely free of any form of debilitating disease or recurring malady, perhaps we should remember that it would, at the least, have cost us the services of President George Washington.
And, we might also ask, who is disease-free today in a world where smoking, drinking, being overweight or having an occasional migraine are considered disqualifying diseases.
Such a tight definition of passing the presidential health test might leave us with very few candidates - an astronaut, an athlete free of abusive substances…and Betty White.