There's a long history of U.S. presidents, candidates having health issues

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
(Image credit: Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Over the last 125 years, U.S. presidents and presidential candidates have had tumors, suffered strokes, fallen off stages, received treatment for cancer, and choked on pretzels, with only some of it happening in the public eye.

Since Sunday, Hillary Clinton's health, specifically her bout with pneumonia, has been a major topic of discussion, but Jacob Appel, an assistant professor at Mt. Sinai Medical School, told NBC News that presidents and candidates didn't really talk about their medical histories until 1955, when Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack and let his doctor discuss it with the press. Before that, Grover Cleveland secretly boarded a friend's yacht so it looked like he was on vacation, but in reality he was having surgery to remove a tumor, and Woodrow Wilson's wife made sure her husband's major stroke remained under wraps. At the age of 39, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became permanently paralyzed from the waist down, but he was rarely photographed while sitting in his wheelchair, doing whatever he could do to mask his condition, and John F. Kennedy's bad back wasn't a secret, but many of his other ailments were.

Some more minor medical mishaps include Jimmy Carter collapsing in 1979 while running a race in Maryland, stoking fears he was having a heart attack, and George H.W. Bush throwing up and then fainting in 1992 during a banquet hosted by the prime minister of Japan. Ronald Reagan's health was on the decline toward the end of his time as president, and later he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and several presidents and candidates have had cancer, including John McCain, John Kerry, and Bob Dole.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.

SUBSCRIBE & SAVE
https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/flexiimages/jacafc5zvs1692883516.jpg

Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

While he was never president, Dick Cheney had four heart attacks before becoming vice president (and one after), has had several heart surgeries, and received a heart transplant in 2012; he also caused a health crisis for someone else when he shot a friend while quail hunting in 2006. It was George W. Bush, however, who turned his medical scare into a teaching moment for America. In 2002, while watching football with his dogs Barney and Spot, he choked on a pretzel and "hit the deck," he told reporters after the incident. Sporting a gash on his face, Bush explained that when he woke up, his dogs were "showing a lot of concern," and he realized his glasses cut the side of his face. Bush then recalled something former first lady Barbara Bush once told him. "My mother always said, 'When you're eating pretzels, chew before you swallow,'" he said. "Listen to your mother." Catherine Garcia

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us