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Mrs. Bush Treated for Thyroid Problem, Joking Throughout

April 12, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Barbara Bush emerged jovially from a radioactive treatment for a thyroid condition Wednesday, kidding around and hosting a White House reception with the Queen of Sweden.

Mrs. Bush said she felt fine, and that her normal activities would not be curtailed except that she couldn’t hold her grandchildren or her dog’s new puppies for a few days, and ″I’m not kissing anybody.″

In a standard procedure for people who suffer Graves disease, the first lady drank a radioactive iodine solution to destroy her thyroid gland because it was producing excess levels of hormones.

Mrs. Bush told reporters after standing in a half-hour reception line with Queen Silvia that she felt wonderful.

She joked that with their constant questions about her health, reporters have ″ruined every party I have,″ and she complained that news of her condition overshadowed what she wanted to focus on, the queen’s efforts on behalf of the disabled.

She said she swam a mile Thursday and Monday and played tennis on Wednesday, and hoped to keep exercising to keep of the 21 pounds that the Graves disease had caused her to lose.

The first lady staggered and leaned on the arm of her press secretary in mock infirmity as she walked up to reporters. But, she told the group, ″I could Indian wrestle any one of you to the ground.″

Looking fresh and trim in a purple silky dress, her silver hair swept fashionably back, the first lady said in reference to her weight loss, ″I like half of my disease. In fact I love half of it.″

During a two-hour visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Mrs. Bush sipped the radioactive solution through a straw. It tasted like water, she said, adding that it only took two minutes to drink it but she got chatting with the doctors about foreign travel.

She also had her eyes examined, and they were found to have no damage from the Graves disease which had caused her some eye irritation.

The disease can cause the eyes to open wide and water, ″so it looks weird,″ Mrs. Bush said. She said doctors told her to ask President Bush to check and see if she sleeps with her eyes open, but ″I haven’t had the nerve to do that.″

The aftereffect of the treatment could be a pain in the neck for several days, said her press secretary, Anna Perez, who added that Mrs. Bush ″cracked jokes about that all day.″

Mrs. Bush said her husband knew that she was well, but when he read press reports that went on at length about her disease, he called her Wednesday morning to inquire, ″Are you all right?″

The Bushes canceled a weekend trip to Kennebunkport, Maine, but aides said it was unrelated to Mrs. Bush’s condition, having instead to do with logistics and family members visiting Washington this weekend.

Bush’s spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the change was for personal reasons and also so the president could be in town while budget negotiations with Congress were at a critical point.

Later the president said he had received ″a very good report from Dr. Lee (Dr. Burton J. Lee III, one of the attending physicians) and from Barbara herself″ on her condition.

Ms. Perez said the Bushes’ son Jeb and his wife Columba were flying to Washington from Florida and that other family members also may come. ″The kids are going to be in town and it occurred to them, ’Why are we going at all?‴ Ms. Perez said.

The spokeswoman said of Mrs. Bush’s treatment, ″She was cracking jokes throughout the whole thing, wondering why her visit to Walter Reed gets so much coverage when Child Help doesn’t,″ a reference to a charity foundation in which Mrs. Bush is interested.

The doctors said Mrs. Bush should not hug her dog’s new puppies or kiss any of her 11 grandchildren for a few days because puppies and children have a heightened sensitivity to radiation, the spokeswoman said. Otherwise her normal activity should not be interrupted.

Her disease was diagnosed after she noticed an irritation of her eyes and lost weight.

After the radiation treatment takes effect and deactivates her thyroid gland, probably in two to three months, Mrs. Bush will have to take daily medication to maintain adequate hormone levels, said Ms. Perez.

For several weeks, Mrs. Bush has been been taking methimazole to block production of excess hormones and will continue to take it until blood levels of thyroid hormones fall below normal levels, a White House statement said.

She then will switch to a thyroid hormone replacement supplment, Ms. Perez said.

Wednesday’s procedure was described as a more permanent solution to the condition.

Graves disease results from a mixup in the body’s disease-fighting immune system. The body produces antibodies that mistakenly attack the thryoid gland as an enemy. Instead of harming the gland, they stimulate it to grow and work non-stop, producing too much thyroid hormone. Though the tendency is passed from parent to child, no one knows precisely what triggers the antibody attack.

Left untreated, Graves disease can be life threatening, but it generally responds quickly to therapy.

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