Thu, August 18, 2022


Biden deemed fit after routine physical

WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden was deemed "fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency" by his physician following a "routine physical" at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Friday.

The examination included a colonoscopy requiring anesthesia, during which Biden temporarily transferred power to Vice President Kamala Harris. That made her the first woman to serve as acting president - for 85 minutes. White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that Biden resumed his duties around 11:35 a.m., was in good spirits and had spoken to both Harris and White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain.


Photo Credit: Washington Post photo by Demetrius Freeman.

In a six-page summary of his physical released by the White House Friday evening, Kevin O'Connor - who has been Biden's primary care doctor since 2009 - observed that Biden "has experienced increasing frequency and severity of 'throat clearing' and coughing during speaking engagements," as well as that Biden's "ambulatory gait is perceptibly stiffer and less fluid than it was a year or so ago." O'Connor added that Biden confirmed these observations.

O'Connor concluded that Biden's coughing and throat clearing - which critics have seized on as a sign that Biden is unwell - are the result of his existing gastroesophageal reflux, and that no additional treatment is needed other than continuing with his current regimen of Pepcid.

O'Connor also noted that while Biden's stiff gait could be explained by the orthopedic and sports-related injuries he has previously sustained, "a gait disturbance can include a variety of neurologic pathologies"; the team he brought into assess Biden's gait included spine, foot, ankle, radiology, and physical therapy, as well as movement disorder neurologic specialists.

Ultimately, however, Biden's doctor concluded that Biden's stiffness was the result of normal "wear and tear" to his spine, and noted that an "extremely detailed neurologic exam was reassuring in that there were no findings which would be consistent with any cerebellar or other central neurological disorder," like a stroke or Parkinson's.

He suggested that Biden would likely benefit from shoe orthotics.

That report also noted he does not use any tobacco products, does not drink any alcohol and works out at least five days per week. Biden's report recorded him at nearly 6 feet tall and weighing 184 pounds,with a total cholesterol level at 100.

O'Sullivan concluded that Biden remains "a healthy, vigorous, 78-year-old male."

White House officials have said for months that Biden, who turns 79 on Saturday and is the nation's oldest president, would get an annual physical and be transparent about the results.

In her statement, Psaki noted that President George W. Bush had also briefly transferred power to his vice president under similar circumstances in 2002 and 2007.

Psaki said that Harris worked out of her office in the West Wing during the period - one hour and 25 minutes - that she had the powers of the presidency.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Psaki noted that when Biden selected Harris as his running mate, he knew he was making history and that "today was another chapter in that history."

"I think that will be noted for many women, young girls across the country," Psaki said.

Biden's motorcade arrived at the hospital shortly before 9 a.m. Friday.

The records will be the first since Biden released a three-page summary of his medical records nearly two years ago, and come after the White House committed to releasing his records before the end of the year.

Biden also vowed as a candidate to be "totally transparent in terms of my health," which came at a time when he was running against President Donald Trump, who had a record of being less than forthcoming about his own health and who sought to make Biden's mental acuity and age an issue in their race.

During the campaign, Biden would often say it was legitimate for voters to question and consider his age as a factor, while he also attempted to prevent those questions from lingering by jogging onto a stage or being among the last to leave his events.

At times he has grown prickly over questions about his mental acuity and his fitness for office. When a reporter questioned him about his medical records during the campaign, Biden suggested a wrestling match. When an 83-year-old farmer in Iowa said he thought Biden might be too old for the job - noting how he noticed his own body and mind slowing down - Biden said he was prepared for a push-up contest, a footrace or an IQ test.

A group of doctors last year also reviewed available records on Biden and Trump to provide an assessment, determining Biden's estimated life expectancy was nearly 97 years, given his health and family history (his mother died at 92, his father at 86).

In the White House, Biden's health has continued to garner outsize attention because of both his age and criticism from Republicans who have seized on what they claim are his deteriorating mental and physical abilities. During the 2020 campaign, Trump repeatedly raised questions about Biden's fitness for office, nicknaming him "Sleepy Joe." And Trump's base quickly took up the political attack, with some making veiled comments about Biden's mental acumen and others offering more overt ones.

After Biden's first news conference in March, for instance, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., tweeted, "A President with cognitive decline is a national security risk."

Also in March, Biden stumbled several times walking up the stairs to Air Force One, prompting another round of mocking and questions about his health, and forcing the White House to clarify that it was a windy day and the president was "100 percent fine."

In a Pew survey in September, 56% of respondents said that "mentally sharp" described Biden not too well or not well at all. Asked Friday about voter concerns surrounding Biden's physical and mental health, Psaki pointed to attacks being stoked by the former president and his allies.

"There is certainly quite a bit of conspiracy theory pushing out there on a range of social media platforms and even through the mouths of elected officials," she said. "So that could certainly be a root cause."

Biden's last medical records came in December 2019, in a three-page summary written by his doctor and declaring him "healthy" and "vigorous." That summary was the most complete glimpse into Biden's health since the Obama-Biden campaign released 49 pages of records in 2008.

The December 2019 report indicated he was treated for an irregular heartbeat, gastroesophageal reflux and seasonal allergies.

It also showed he had a history of atrial fibrillation, which was discovered during a routine check before he had his gallbladder removed in 2003. Biden has never required any medication or electrical treatments to control the rate or rhythm of his heartbeat, but he does take a blood thinner. He also uses over-the-counter esomeprazole for gastroesophageal reflux and uses Allegra and Dymista to treat his sinus symptoms. It also noted Biden had no permanent damage from the aneurysms he suffered in 1988.

Since that time, the only known instance of Biden requiring medical attention came after he had a hairline fracture in his right foot shortly after he won the presidential election. The injury came while he was chasing his dog Major, grabbing his tail and then tripping on a throw rug. Biden wore a boot on his foot for a few weeks and visited an orthopedic specialist clinic shortly after his inauguration.

"Both small fractures of his foot are completely healed," O'Connor said in February. "This injury has healed as expected," he added, "and he will return to his usual exercise regimen."

There is no requirement for a president to divulge their medical details, and there has been a long history of politicians, including presidents, attempting with withhold health information.

Woodrow Wilson kept it a secret when strokes paralyzed his left side, and Franklin D. Roosevelt famously masked the effects of polio. John F. Kennedy's youthful appearance helped cover his chronic back pain and Addison's disease.

Biden's report is coming earlier than some of his immediate predecessors.

Trump's first physical as president was released in January 2018, with a glowing report from Ronny Jackson, who was the White House physician at the time and, after allegations of misconduct derailed a nomination for secretary of Veterans Affairs, is now a Republican congressman from Texas.

Obama had his first medical checkup about a year after taking office. He was 48 at the time and deemed in "excellent health" but was still struggling to stop a 30-year smoking habit.

George W. Bush had his first physical as president Aug. 4, 2001, less than seven months after taking office and about a year since his last exam. He was 55 at the time and deemed "fit for duty." George H.W. Bush released his physical results in May 1989.

Biden returned to the White House Friday afternoon, where he participated in the time-honored White House tradition of a turkey pardon. He is scheduled to travel later to Wilmington, Del., for the weekend.

Published : November 20, 2021

By : The Washington Post