U.S. Presidents not the heart healthiest bunch

Malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis, dysentery, diphtheria, and notorious tooth decay are just some of the afflictions George Washington endured. But today, as we look forward to a long weekend to celebrate former presidents, we’re going to take a look at some of those who suffered from heart disease. It’s still Heart Health Month after all.

William Howard Taft, our 27th president, suffered from morbid obesity. He weighed from 300 to 340 pounds most of the time he was in the White House. He was the fattest president in history. He dieted aggressively to lose 100 pounds which he continued to gain and lose throughout his life. He suffered from sleep apnea, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Dr. Zebra’s website tells this story: “Taft once sent a telegram to Secretary of War Elihu Root, ‘Took long horseback ride today; feeling fine.’ The secretary immediately cabled back: ‘How’s the horse?’”

Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge both died of heart disease, although there are rumors that Harding’s wife actually poisoned him. Roughly four years after leaving office, Coolidge ate his lunch, went to take a nap and died of coronary thrombosis.

“(Franklin Delano) Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented fourth term in 1944, around the same time that a doctor determined he had serious heart and circulatory problems, including hypertension,” an article on the American Heart Association’s website said. “He died of a massive stroke a year later. He was 63. His death helped spark a surge of interest in studying, understanding and fighting cardiovascular diseases.”

So much so, the National Heart Institute was founded in 1948. Now called the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, this agency launched the Framingham Heart Study that followed over 5,000 Massachusetts residents in order to determine the behaviors and genetic traits of people who get heart disease and those who don’t. This study, by the way, is ongoing and now the grandchildren of the original volunteers are participating.

A couple of years after Harry Truman took office he was diagnosed with “cardiac asthma,” so called because the symptoms, wheezing, coughing shortness of breath, resemble asthma. It’s actually congestive heart failure which 25 years later contributed to his death.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was a heart attack waiting to happen. The man smoked four packs of cigarettes a day! While out golfing in the Denver area, “Eisenhower, 64, started complaining of indigestion, which he attributed to the hamburger with Bermuda onions he had wolfed down between his morning and afternoon games,” an article written by Sean Braswell said.

“Just 24 hours later, the American people were informed that their war-hero president was in an oxygen tent at Fitzsimons Army Hospital being treated by one of the best cardiologists in the country.” Eisenhower had seven heart attacks before dying of congestive heart failure when he was 78 years old.

Also a heavy smoker, Lyndon B. Johnson had a heart attack in 1955 when he was a U.S. Senator. After leaving the White House he was diagnosed with angina. Two more heart attacks occurred a year apart and he died from the latter. He was 64.

Gerald Ford also died of heart problems, but not until he was 93. He suffered from aortic stenosis and congestive heart failure and had a pacemaker.

At the end of his term, at age 66, George H.W. Bush “was jogging at Camp David when he complained of shortness of breath and fatigue,” AHA said. “A physician on site detected a rapid, irregular heartbeat, or atrial fibrillation.” His heart rhythm is controlled by medication.

You might remember that Bill Clinton underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2004. He was 58. In 2005, the AHA partnered with the William J. Clinton Foundation to form the Alliance for a Healthier Generation focused on eliminating childhood obesity.

And, last but not least, George W. Bush underwent an angioplasty procedure to open a blocked artery in August of 2013. He was 67. The symptom-free problem was discovered during a regular check-up. Have you had yours lately?

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.