Being president of the United States comes with luxuries such as access to premier medical care and a support staff helping with healthy meals, frequent workouts and regular doctor visits.
Despite all of that, U.S. presidents — like all of us — can become heart patients.
George W. Bush joined the list in August 2013 when he underwent an angioplasty procedure to open a blocked artery. The problem was discovered during a checkup, and the 67-year-old Bush – an avid cyclist and exercise enthusiast – is expected to resume normal activities on Thursday.
Other presidents have encountered other types of issues, too. Here is a glimpse at the heart-health history of Bush’s predecessors who’ve served since the founding of the American Heart Association in 1924.
Clinton was 58 and three years removed from office when he underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2004. His problem was discovered after he experienced chest pain and shortness of breath.
In 2010, Clinton underwent a procedure similar to what Bush just had; tiny wire-mesh tubes called stents were inserted to widen narrowed arteries. One of the differences between their cases was that Clinton’s procedure was prompted by his feeling chest pain again.
Clinton’s first bout with heart problems led to his involvement with the American Heart Association. In 2005, the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association partnered to form the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which is focused on eliminating childhood obesity. The program already is in 17,000 schools, with an aim of 25,000 by 2015. It’s believed that more than 20 million children will be touched by the Alliance over the course of this decade, with the influence reaching countless others.
In May 1991, when he was 66 and near the end of his term, the elder Bush was jogging at Camp David when he complained of shortness of breath and fatigue. A physician on site detected a rapid, irregular heartbeat – or atrial fibrillation. He was flown by helicopter to a hospital, where he underwent an electrocardiogram and an ultrasound exam.
Bush’s condition ended up stemming from a thyroid problem. His heart rhythm was controlled by medication.
Ford died in 2006 at age 93 because of heart problems (aortic stenosis, congestive heart failure) that arose in his final years. A few months before his death, he had the same procedure Bush had Tuesday; he also had a pacemaker implanted.
His daughter, Susan Ford Bales, spoke at an American Heart Association Heart Ball in Michigan earlier this summer. She discussed how heart disease afflicted both her parents, and herself. She was 53 when she went into sudden cardiac arrest while on an elliptical machine at a gym. A doctor who happened to be there used an automated electronic defibrillator (AED) to shock her heart back into rhythm; she later received a stent and a pacemaker.
LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON
In December 1963, Johnson signed a proclamation declaring that February would be American Heart Month. It’s remained that way every year since.
While Johnson’s presidency was not affected by heart problems, the specter of it influenced his decision not to run for re-election. He told an interviewer: “I figured that with my history of heart trouble, I’d never live through another four years.”
He turned out to be right.
In 1970, about a year after leaving the White House, he was hospitalized following a bout with angina. He had another heart attack in 1972, and died following a heart attack in 1973. He was 64.
Eisenhower had a heart attack during his first term. It happened in September 1955, while visiting his in-laws in Denver. He left the hospital seven weeks later, then spent time recuperating in Florida. Doctors declared him recovered in February 1956, and he was re-elected that November.
The medical team that treated Eisenhower included Dr. Paul Dudley White, a co-founder of the American Heart Association and an early president of the organization. He’s widely considered the father of American cardiology.
Eisenhower had a second heart attack in 1965, and another a few days later. He would have a total of seven heart attacks before dying of congestive heart failure in March 1969. He was 78.
Two years into his tenure, in 1947, Truman wrote in his diary that he’d been diagnosed with “cardiac asthma.” That wasn’t revealed until much later, though, and he lived another 25 years. He died in 1972 at age 88, with heart problems and other ailments attributed to his demise.
FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT
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. 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.
In 1948, Congress created the National Heart Institute (now known as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, or NHLBI), which in turn launched the Framingham Heart Study. This study followed 5,209 residents of Framingham, Mass., to determine the behaviors and genetic traits of people who get heart disease, and those who don’t. The study is still going strong; in 2002, it began enrolling grandchildren of the original volunteers.
In 1949, the American Heart Association began funding clinical research, and has since invested upwards of $3.5 billion – more than any organization outside the federal government.
Coolidge died of a heart attack in 1933. He was 60, and about four years removed from the Oval Office.
Coolidge became president in 1923, a year before the founding of the American Heart Association.
All images courtesy of presidential libraries.
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