Friday, February 15, 2013

Loyola Neurologist Reports that 10 Presidents Have Suffered Strokes

MAYWOOD, Ill. - Ten of the nation's 44 presidents likely suffered strokes during their presidencies or after leaving office, according to Dr. José Biller, a Loyola University Medical Center neurologist.

Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower suffered nonfatal strokes while in office. Woodrow Wilson was so incapacitated by a series of strokes that his wife, Edith, became the virtual acting president.

(Unlike Wilson, Eisenhower did not suffer serious disabilities).

Franklin Roosevelt died of a massive stroke on April 12, 1945, leaving the presidency to an unprepared Harry Truman just as World War II was ending. 

"Strokes affect the brain. And everything we do - from simple motor functions to more complex behaviors such as planning, reasoning and judgment - is brain-related," Biller said. "When a stroke affects a president, it can have a major impact not only on the individual but on the world."

Biller is co-author of a study, titled "Stroke and the American Presidency," in the Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases. Since the article's publication in 1997, Biller has continued to observe from afar the neurological health of presidents and other major political figures. Biller is chair of the Department of Neurology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Biller said the afflicted presidents had several stroke risk factors in common. Being men, they were more likely than women to suffer strokes. Seven of the 10 presidents were older than 65 when they suffered strokes. And, of course, the presidency is an extremely stressful job.

Seven presidents - John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford - suffered strokes after leaving office. (In 2000, former President Gerald Ford began slurring his words during a TV interview.)

Some of the presidents who suffered strokes had unhealthy lifestyles. Chester Arthur was obese and got little exercise. Franklin Roosevelt was a heavy smoker. Andrew Johnson may have abused alcohol.

What happens if a president suffers a debilitating stroke while in office? The 25th Amendment to the Constitution provides a mechanism for the vice president to become acting president should the president be unable to perform his or her duties.

Stroke treatments have significantly improved in recent years. And the sooner a patient arrives at the hospital, the better the outcome, Biller said.

About Loyola University Health System

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), located on a 61-acre campus in Maywood, Gottlieb Memorial Hospital (GMH), on a 36-acre campus in Melrose Park, and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. At the heart of LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital that houses the Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, a burn center, a children's hospital, Loyola Outpatient Center, and Loyola Oral Health Center. The campus also is home to Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. The GMH campus includes a 254-licensed-bed community hospital, a Professional Office Building with 150 private practice clinics, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the nation. It serves people and communities in 22 states from coast to coast with 93 hospitals, and 120 continuing care locations — including home care, hospice, PACE and senior living facilities — that provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually.