How Worried Should We Be About Bernie’s Heart Attack? By Dr. Leonard Sowah

Disease Control government and politics Heart Disease Improvement in cardiac disease treatment Myocardial Infarction myocardial infarction on the presidential campaign trail Smoking cessation

This week the Senator from Vermont and Democratic Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders had a heart attack whilst on the Campaign trail. Such events in US Presidential campaigns are usually very major issues however fortunately or unfortunately Bernie’s heart attack was relegated to back pages of the political news on account of issues related to Trump’s impeachment inquiry.

Sander’s ended up in a hospital in Nevada and spent two days in hospital getting out on Friday, October 4th 2019. On his discharge Bernie was all smiles waving to press and supporters and promising to be back soon on the campaign trail. According to the Sanders campaign staff he is going back to Burlington, Vermont to get ready for the next democratic debate in 2 weeks.

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Sanders leaving hospital after his heart attack

Even with his reported heart attack Sanders is still  said to be raising more money than Biden. In September campaign finance filings Bernie out-raised Biden by more than $10 million.  Sanders however still trails the prior Vice President and the Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in the democratic primary polls.

As presidential heart attacks go though they come in many varieties and outcomes. Warren G Harding the 29th President died of a heart attack whilst in office on August 2nd, 1923. Most reports from his time agree with this determination. There are still conspiracy theories of poisoning which have never been put to death since his wife refused permission for an autopsy.

Dwight D. Eisenhower  the 34th President’s heart attack in 1955 is the most well documented. Ike was said to have had symptoms from September 23rd, 1955 whilst playing golf on a working vacation in Denver, CO. The president’s family and personal physician attempted to treat him without hospital admission till he was evaluated by a cardiologist from Fitzsimons Army Hospital who conducted an electrocardiogram and immediately had him whisked into hospital in secret.

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President Eisenhower, on the left putting on his gloves prior to his golf game in Denver, CO, Sept 23rd, 1955

The cardiologist’s initial evaluation suggested a massive heart attack but in reports of the time he was said to have had a mild heart attack. President Eisenhower was eventually managed successfully with blood thinners and sedatives and was discharged from hospital on November 11th 1955, almost 7 weeks after admission. Eisenhower who had initially suggested he would not run for re-election run in 1956, securing a landslide victory against Democratic Candidate Adlai Stevenson with 457 out of 531 electoral college votes.

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Electoral College Map for Election Results in 1956 – Source: Newfraferz87 Wiki Contributo

Ike eventually died 13 years later at age 78 on March 28, 1969, in Washington, D.C., of congestive heart failure at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. This was most likely a consequence of his prior heart attack.

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Ike D. Eisenhower posing for the Press after his heart attack in 1955

Lyndon B. Johnson a 3 pack a day cigarette smoker suffered a near fatal heart attack on July 2nd 1955 as the Senate Majority Leader. Johnson had a surprisingly good recovery and many believed his illness was the spark that started his renewed effort to do what he set out to achieve  in public office; helping the underprivileged. Johnson quit smoking and did not smoke for the next 15 years. In the intervening years he attempted to win the democratic presidential candidacy in 1960 after having won 80 votes as a favorite candidate for president in the 1956 Democratic Convention.  He later served as John F. Kennedy’s running mate and ended his first term after the assassination in 1963. Lyndon won re-election and had a very memorable presidency championing many civil rights legislations both in the senate and in the White House.

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Lyndon & Lady Bird Johnson on their ranch in Stonewall, TX

On this account if history is anything to go by Sanders who is much older than both Ike and LBJ when they suffered their heart attacks has on his side rapid treatment with coronary stenting. His rapid recovery and discharge suggests he most likely suffered less heart muscle damage than any of his two predecessors.

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Balloon Angiography and Coronary Stenting

At this time though we need to continue to look at how Bernie fares in the polls and his subsequent fundraising numbers to get a better idea of the political implications of this health scare. Health-wise however, Bernie probably has just as much juice in him as any of his strongest political competitors.

The senator would however have to consider doing the following to boost both his health and public opinion.

  1. Slowly incorporate a visible cardio-exercise schedule into his plans whilst on the campaign trail
  2. Be extra judicious with his sleep schedule, poor sleep is just as bad as bad cholesterol in making one more prone to a heart attack
  3. Take regular breaks to recharge by doing things that he loves outside of the campaign.

So the ball is in Bernie’s court we would wait and see how he handles himself from now till the next debate and beyond.

Dr. Leonard Sowah is an Internal Medicine Physician in Baltimore, Maryland

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