MAYWOOD, Ill. - Ten of the nation's 44 presidents likely suffered strokes during their presidencies or after leaving office, according to Loyola University Hospital neurologist Dr. Jose Biller.
Woodrow Wilson was so incapacitated by a series of strokes that his wife, Edith, became the virtual acting president. 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. And in 2000, former President Gerald Ford began slurring his words during a TV interview.
"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 chairman, Department of Neurology, at the Loyola University Health System. He is a professor of neurology and neurological surgery 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. Plus, 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.
Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower suffered nonfatal strokes while in office. (Unlike Wilson, Ike did not suffer serious disabilities). Seven presidents -- John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford -- suffered strokes after leaving office.
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. For example, Vice President Richard Cheney became acting president while President George Bush was sedated for a colonoscopy.
Stroke treatments have significantly improved in recent years. And the sooner a patient arrives at the hospital, the better the outcome. Noting that May is National Stroke Awareness Month, Biller recommends people learn either the "FAST" method or the "Give Me 5" method for recognizing stroke symptoms:
The FAST method: Face: Does one side of the face droop when the person smiles? Arm: When both arms are outstretched, does one drift downward? Speech: Is it slurred? Time: If anyone experiences any of these symptoms, call 911 and ask to be taken to the nearest stroke center hospital.
The Give Me 5 method:
1. Walk: Is their balance off? 2. Talk: Is speech slurred or face droopy? 3. Reach: Is one side weak or numb? 4. See: Is vision all or partly lost? 5. Feel: Is headache severe?
Loyola has been certified as a Primary Care Stroke Center by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. The Joint Commission also has awarded Loyola its Gold Seal of Approvalâ¢ for stroke care.
Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Loyola University Health System is a quaternary care system with a 61 acre main medical center campus and 22 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Il. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 570 licensed bed facility currently undergoing a significant expansion project. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonaldÂ® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Health & Fitness.