Stroke and the American Presidency

Article excerpt

Since 1846, ten U.S. presidents have suffered or died from strokes. Their stories illustrate how understanding and treatment of this devastating ailment has changed over the years.

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, had a traumatic right brachial plexus injury as a child but was otherwise neurologically intact until he suffered his first stroke at the age of 79. On November 10, 1846, Dr.George Parkman was escorting him on a tour of the Harvard School of Medicine when he collapsed and became unresponsive. He regained consciousness and make a near-total recovery, Adams' family doctor, John Bigelow, diagnosed a slight stroke.

On February 21, 1848, he suffered his second and final stroke. Adams attempted to address the Congress on the Mexican War. After he arose, he fell into the arms of a colleague. His consciousness waxed and waned. and he died on February 23, 1848.

John Tyler

John Tyler, the tenth president, was in poor health throughout most of his life. Lacking confidence in the medical profession, Tyler chose to relieve his aliments by homeopathic means. He developed intermittent bouts of dizziness and vomiting. They were so frequent that he chose to ignore so frequent that he chose to ignore them. In January of 1862, Mr. Tyler was staying at the Exchange Hotel in Richmond when he fell dizzy, nauseated, and vomited bile. Later, he went down to the hotel dining room for a cup of tea to alleviate his symptoms. There he slumped to the floor, unconscious. Tyler eventually regained conciousness and was ordered to strict bed rest. On January 17, 1862, he awoke gasping for air and, shortly therafter, died. Retrospectively, the bouts of dizziness may have been recurrent posterior circulation transient ischemic attacks (TIAs).

Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore, the 13th president, never drank nor smoked. His one identifiable stroke risk factor was obesity. After his morning, shave on February 13, 1874, Fillmore suffered his first stroke. His left hand dropped to his side, powerless. Paralysis continued to spread to the left side of his face and then to the larynx and pharynx. He showed some short-term recovery, but two weeks later another stroke completely paralyzed his left side, and he had severe dysphagia. Millard remained bedridden and showed minimal recovery before he died on March 8, 1874.

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson, the 17th president, reportedly drank mint juleps and whiskey. Some believe that his inauguration speech was rambling because of ethanol intoxication. On July 30, 1875, he suffered a fatal stroke. He was visiting his daughter's family. They had finished lunch, and he retired to an armchair. As he sat in the chair, he and his granddaughter spoke. She turned to leave the room. Before she reached the door, she heard the sound of Johnson falling to the floor. He was initially conscious and had left hemiparesis [paralysis]. The family was forbidden to call a physician. The following day, the stroke paralyzed his entire body, and he lapsed into unconsciousness. His family notified a physician. The recommendation was to bleed Andrew Johnson. He died two hours later.

Thomas Woodrow Wilson

Thomas Woodrow Wilson. the 28th president, was born in 1856 and died in 1924. In his early childhood, he was prone to illness. The stress and activities of school overwhelmed Wilson, and he suffered a total collapse in the winter of 1800. Problems with abdominal discomfort and prolonged headaches beset him at the University of Virginia and followed him throughout his life. Freud, et. al., documented 14 times during his career when nervousness, dyspepsia, and headaches became severe enough to interfere with his work. In 1906, Wilson went blind in his left eye. The visual loss was a result of an opthamalmic artery thrombosis.

While attempting to tally the electoral votes to enter the United States in the Leauge of Nations, Wilson suffered an aphasic TIA followed by a stroke. …