Presidents with Heart Problems
Today, Presidents’ Day, marks the annual celebration of all U.S. presidents from the past, as well as the present. Originally, it was celebrated on the birthday of our first-ever president, George Washington: February 22. Today, it’s a day to celebrate his birthday, as well as remember the lives of the 44 presidents who have passed since.
Coincidentally, the day we celebrate in remembrance of these men happens to fall into Heart Month. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in America, taking more than 600,000 lives each year— and our American presidents are no strangers to developing the disease.
Dyanna Johnston, a Crossroads Hospice Nurse Practitioner, says that poor life choices tend to be the most common cause of heart disease.
“If your heart isn’t healthy, then this can lead to congestive heart failure,” she explains. “There are things people can do as far as lifestyle modifications that can help relieve a lot of the symptoms.”
Because the American presidency dates back to the late 18th century, many of our presidents lacked the knowledge of how to make lifestyle modifications to improve their heart health, which ultimately led them to significant heart problems.
We’ve learned a lot from these leaders as they served as commander-in-chief in times of war and guided the U.S. through social progress over the centuries, driving the country to be what it is today. And we can learn even more from their personal lives, how they developed heart disease and how it changed their lives.
Throughout his life and presidency, our second President of the U.S. suffered from recurring instances of heartburn. This was likely a result of smoking, drinking alcohol and other poor health choices that were the norm in the 18th and 19th centuries.
At the time of his passing, a descendant described it as "merely the cessation of the functions of a body worn out by age," although John Bumgarner, a physician and author of The Health of the Presidents, hypothesizes based on the evidence available that congestive heart failure was the real cause.
Our 21st president is certainly one who could have benefited from far better hospice care regarding his heart issues. In Bumgarner’s book, Arthur’s last days were bluntly described as “miserable.”
Bumgarner’s book further explains that in early 1886, the year of his passing, his symptoms of dyspnea, orthopnea, edema and cachexia all pointed to heart failure. He needed opiates to sleep and even tried relocating from New York to the cooler climate of Connecticut, which ultimately gave him little relief.
After returning to New York that same year, Arthur told a friend, likely due to his lack of proper hospice care, that, "After all, life is not worth living. I might as well give up the struggle for it now as at any other time and submit to the inevitable." This was shortly before his death from heart failure in November of 1886.
William Taft, our 27th president, is often known for the urban legend of getting stuck in a bathtub due to his obesity. Along with his obesity came a long list of health problems throughout his life. Among these were heart problems, suffering several heart attacks in 1924 alone.
Six years later, after several noted attempts to improve his diet and unhealthy lifestyle, Taft passed from heart failure.
President Harding’s doctors began suspecting his heart disease as early as 1919 — four years before his death, which would eventually come as a result.
By 1922, signs of his heart disease were increasing. He became easily exhausted and had recurring chest pains. LM Deppisch’s research, Homeopathic Medicine and Presidential Health, quotes a White House valet describing “How Harding was forced to sleep with his head propped up by several pillows, a sign of congestive heart failure."
Although Harding refused to have an autopsy, his cause of death was clearly attributed to his heart problems.
President Eisenhower experienced several heart attacks in his lifetime, most notably one during his presidency in 1955 that was so serious he was sidelined for about six weeks, allowing Vice President Richard Nixon take over his duties for that period.
Many of Eisenhower’s health problems could be attributed to his smoking habit that is traced back to his early days at West Point and is estimated to have been up to two to three packs per day.
At the age of 78 in 1969, deterioration of his cardiac status progressed markedly and led to his death in March of that same year.
For the 36th president, heart problems ran in his family. He was actually quoted in his final interview saying that “Johnson men die before reaching 65 years old.” He was 64 at the time.
It was at this age when Johnson passed, and he kind of saw it coming. Johnson had already suffered three major heart attacks and knew he didn’t have long to live. Soon after that last interview,Johnson was napping at his ranch when he suffered his final massive coronary attack. He passed away almost instantly.
Many great men, many great heart problems. If there’s one thing we can say we’ve learned, it’s that healthier choices could potentially spare us from some of these experiences.
In Dyanna Johnston’s case, she explains that if you do happen to have heart-related health problems or disease, Crossroads Hospice is among the best options for comfort and care.
“We have awesome nurses and nurse practitioners that are able to go in there and take care of those patients that are terminally ill and we can help with medications and keeping them comfortable,” she says. “We know the signs to look for and have a great team that can help in that area as well as giving caregivers support in the same.”
Because February is Heart Month, Crossroads is helping to raise awareness by “going red.” Learn more about how we can help those who are experiencing end-stage heart conditions by calling 1-888-564-3405 or visiting our website:
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