We Need to Know More About Biden's Health

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Dr. Lomazow, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, is working on a book about FDR's health problems. Click here for his blog.

The headline, from the Associated Press, May 4, 1988, read:"Biden Resting After Surgery For Second Brain Aneurysm." The story flashed the details around the world:

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. underwent surgery today to correct an aneurysm in an artery that supplies blood to the right side of the brain, a spokesman for the Walter Reed Army Medical Center said. The spokesman, Peter Esker, said Senator Biden was awake, resting comfortably and talking with his family after the operation, his second this year to correct an aneurysm. An aneurysm is a ballooning of an artery. The 4 1/2-hour procedure was similar to that performed Feb. 12 on the left side of Mr. Biden's brain. Under the procedure, a surgeon using a microscope pinches the aneurysm with a clip, bringing the walls of the artery together. The clip remains in the patient. Mr. Esker said there are no signs of any other aneurysms, adding that the second was much smaller than the first.

Once again, the remarkable run of neurological disease in prominent political figures has come to the forefront. The potentially fatal consequences of a ruptured brain aneurysm were recently underscored by the untimely and wholly unexpected death of Congresswomen Stephanie Tubbs Jones. Fortunately, for the newly-named Democratic vice-presidential nominee, his prognosis is excellent but, once again, because of the gravity and importance of the position he is aspiring to obtain, special circumstances supervene.

Senator Biden did not return to the Senate until September 8th, seven months after the initial diagnosis, after suffering a pulmonary embolus (blood clot in the lungs), requiring another surgery between his two brain operations. (New York Times, September 8, 1988)

Seven previous vice presidents have died in office, the next to last being the obscure Garret A. Hobart of New Jersey, who would likely have become president upon the assassination of William McKinley had he not succumbed to illness during McKinley's prior term.

There is little dispute that the present holder of the office, Dick Cheney, has medical problems of a cardiac nature that precluded a candidacy to succeed George H.W. Bush.

Vice-Presidents of the United States Who Died In Office

George Clinton, April 20, 1812
Elbridge Gerry, November 23, 1814
William R. King, April 18, 1853
Henry Wilson, November 22, 1875
Thomas A. Hendricks, November 25, 1885
Garret A. Hobart, November 21, 1899
James S. Sherman, October 30, 1912

Joe Biden's two cerebral aneurysm repairs appear to have been entirely successful and those areas are essentially better than new. The issue here is an assurance to the voting public that the man who is a heartbeat away from the most powerful office on earth has the best possible chance of surviving his term. Patients with a history of brain aneurysms can sometimes develop new ones.In this case, the answer can be obtained easily and without risk. A CT Angiogram of the cerebral blood vessels can (and should) be performed prior to the election (if the clip is metallic, an MRI is precluded).

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Alonzo Hamby - 8/25/2008

Based on what we know now, Biden seems to be in good shape, but does need to be monitored carefully.

It is hard to believe that either Kennedy in 1960 or Roosevelt in 1944 could have been elected if the public had been fully informed about their true medical conditions.

Kennedy brushed off charges that he was suffering from Addison's disease, although he had been for years and although he could have made a good case that the problem was being adequately handled with the medications then available.

Roosevelt, we now know, was in very serious condition the last year or two of his third term. It is inconceivable that he could have been relected in 1944 if his full medical records had been available. As it was, widely circulated photographs of his deterioration compelled that day-long autumn ride through the streets of New York that convinced enough voters he was well enough to govern. He wasn't.

Donald Wolberg - 8/25/2008

It is ironic that all the attention given to Mr. McCain's age (71) and Mr. Biden is not that far behind (66), and not much attention to their major health issues, although both are monitored and apparently in current good health. Mr. McCain' struggles with a particularly aggressive cancer seems to have been successful for now, while Mr. Biden's issues with blood clots and possible catastrophic aterial failures also seems to be monitored and in check. Given the vast improvement of medical treatment available today, one wonders if too much attention is paid to health issues. Would it have mattered if the horrid state of Jon Kennedy's medical problems had been made public, or his drug therapy. Ebveryone knew that one of our most significiant Presidents, FDR, had very serious medical issues and yet he was President from 1932 to 1945 when another health issues killed him. Dwight Eisenhower smoked pack after pack every day and had heart problems, but got through office. Perhaps too much is made of "health" and less of common sense or being honorable. The lack of these qualities seems much more serious than medical problems.