John Sotos: Abraham Lincoln ... Did he have a rare disease (MEN 2B)?

Roundup: Talking About History

President Lincoln's health has long fascinated medical historians, and now a California doctor has come up with a new theory after exhaustive research that, he argues, explains all of Lincoln's known features and symptoms. He concludes Lincoln had a rare genetic cancer syndrome that might have killed him within six months had he not been assassinated. Read more of the story: Is Lincoln Earliest Recorded Case of Rare Disease? (The Post, Nov. 26)

Join Washington Post staff writer David Brown and John G. Sotos, the author of this study, for an online discussion on Tuesday, Nov. 27 at 11 a.m. ET.


David Brown: Greetings fans of Abraham Lincoln, medical history, and retrospective diagnosis. We have an interesting subject today, namely the hypothesis that Lincoln had MEN 2B, a rare genetic cancer syndrome. We are lucky to have on the chat the author of the hypothesis, John G. Sotos, a physician and occasional author on topics of presidential health. Also the author of "Zebra Cards", for the medical students and residents in the audience. There are a lot of questions, so let's begin.

Washington, D.C.: Always enjoy reading about Lincoln since he's clearly a fascinating figure. But how many things are we going to diagnose him with more than a century after he died. First, it was depression and now this?

John G. Sotos: It will probably come up in another question, but I don't think Lincoln was depressed.

As for the number of diagnoses, they have actually been pretty limited in number. After Marfan syndrome was proposed in 1962, there has not been much more on the genetic front. There have been half-hearted proposals that he had Stickler syndrome and the MASS phenotype, but mostly the feeling has been "Marfan syndrome is kind of a stretch." By the way, MEN2B was not even been recognized as a disease until about 1965.

McLean, Va.: Do the findings of the Lincoln autopsy support any of the hypotheses about his health/medical condition? How thorough was the autopsy by today's standards? There is one story that the president's autopsy and embalming were carried out in a building on what is now known as Navy Hill (former Naval Medical Center)across from the State Dept. Is this true?

John G. Sotos: Lincoln's autopsy was limited to his brain. It was conducted in an upstairs room in the White House just hours after he died. I do not know for certain where he was embalmed, but I would have to guess it's a 99% chance that that, too, was done at the White House. I do not believe he was removed from the building until the formal ceremonies of his state funeral began.

comments powered by Disqus