Gerald Ford Suffers Small Stroke
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Former President Gerald Ford suffered one and possibly two small strokes at the Republican convention that were mistaken for a sinus infection, and was hospitalized Wednesday with slurred speech and difficulties with balance.
``He should totally recover,″ said Dr. Robert Schwartzman, chief of neurology at Hahnemann University Hospital, where the 87-year-old former president walked in about 9 a.m. under his own power, briefcase in hand.
A half day after he was admitted, ``I am very happy to report that President Ford is improving. He is much better,″ the doctor said. The former president is expected to remain hospitalized for about five days.
Dr. Carol Thomas, another of the physicians treating Ford, said the former president ``continues to have mild problems″ with walking and slurred speech. He was in stable condition and being treated with anti-clotting medication.
The sudden turn dampened spirits slightly at an otherwise jubilant GOP celebration, where Ford had been saluted just a day earlier. Well wishes came to Philadelphia from across the country, from President Clinton to Republican George W. Bush.
``You have the emotion of the moment _ the convention _ and the sobering reality that life is a fragile gift,″ said Bill Federer, an a Missouri congressional candidate stung by the news.
Ford, America’s 38th president, had gone to the hospital overnight, complaining of pain during a GOP salute to him and other former GOP presidents during the convention Tuesday. He was sent home after about a half hour with antibiotics and a diagnosis of a sinus infection.
On his second trip, tests confirmed a ``small brain stem stroke″ at the base the brain, which controls balance, speech and other faculties, doctors said.
Schwartzman said they suspected the former president also suffered a mild stroke a day earlier, based on the description of his symptoms, but there was no evidence of brain damage or permanent disability.
Betty Ford, his wife of 52 years, was by his side. She was ``very upset but fine,″ Schwartzman said. Later in the day, Ford visited with a family friend.
``He is very alert and ready to go home,″ Ford aide Calvin McDowell said.
A family friend who held Ford’s hand at his bedside Wednesday said the former president was shaken by the episode but in good spirits and eager to get to the bottom of his problem.
Doctors said the decision to send Ford home after the first visit was appropriate. ``All he sought was pain relief,″ said Dr. Wayne Satz, the hospital’s chief of emergency medicine. He said Ford’s symptoms were more serious when he returned to the hospital Wednesday morning.
Schwartzman said the stroke was not detected earlier because ``it looks like an ear infection.″
Doctors said they believed Ford suffered from mild arterial disease that caused the clot in the brain stem, leading to the stroke.
Republicans saluted Ford Tuesday night for healing the wounds of Vietnam and Watergate during a turbulent but short two-year stay in the White House. He waved approvingly to the crowd.
But his eyes appeared drawn and he slurred his speech during some TV interviews.
``I could tell right away something was wrong. His speech was not as sharp and clear as it normally is,″ said Lee Simmons, Ford’s part-time special assistant who watched his boss on TV.
Former President George Bush, who sat next to Ford on Tuesday night, paid tribute to him. ``Once again, we were reminded of his decency and all that he did at a crucial time in our nation’s history,″ he said.
George W. Bush spoke to Mrs. Ford by telephone. ``America loves Gerald and Betty Ford for their integrity, wisdom and compassion,″ he said in a statement. Hospital officials said the Republican presidential candidate asked to visit but was told to wait a day.
At a $10 million fund-raiser, Republicans offered a moment of silence for the former president.
Clinton also spoke with Mrs. Ford by telephone. White House spokesman Elliot Diringer said she told the president that her husband was doing fine and in good spirits.
Vice President Al Gore said in a statement that he joins with all Americans ``in holding President Ford and his family in our thoughts and prayers.″
Delegates milling around the convention hall said the news dampened the mood.
``We’re devastated that he’s sick, but we don’t think he’d want it that way. He would still want it to be an upbeat convention,″ said Kathy Pellecchio, a Pennsylvania Republican..
Ford told CNN in an interview broadcast Tuesday night, ``I couldn’t be healthier.″
During a C-SPAN interview, he appeared confused. He answered a question about racial diversity by talking about his home state of Michigan’s diverse economy and a question about Iran by talking about onions.
Ford was appointed vice president by Richard Nixon, and sworn in as president in August 1974 after Nixon’s resignation in the midst of the Watergate scandal. ``Our long national nightmare is over,″ he declared.
But Ford revived the debate a month later by pardoning Nixon for all crimes he may have committed as president. That single act, it was widely believed, led to Ford’s defeat in the 1976 presidential race against Jimmy Carter.
In a long congressional career in which he rose to be House Republican leader, Ford lit few fires _ a man more comfortable carrying out the programs of others than in initiating things on his own.
Ford has been an active golfer in his retirement.
Strokes strike about 600,000 Americans each year and are the nation’s third-leading cause of death, killing 160,000 victims annually. On average, someone in the United States suffers a stroke every 53 seconds.
It occurs when brain tissue dies because of lack of proper blood flow and oxygen.
The most common type is caused by a blood clot in the brain. Rapid treatment of this type of stroke with clot-busting medication can reverse a stroke’s injury to brain cells, allowing patients to dramatically improve.
Strokes also can be caused when a blood vessel abruptly bursts in the brain, destroying nearby brain cells.