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article imageNew York Times Questions John McCain's Health

By Chris V. Thangham     Oct 20, 2008 in Politics
Since 1980, the New York Times has analyzed presidential nominees and (with their permission) spoke to their doctors about their health conditions. The current Republican nominees, McCain and Palin, are reluctant to share that information.
For the last 36 years, New York Times reporter Lawrence Altman compiles a medical analysis of the nominees just before every presidential election.
This year, he wrote a health report about the 2008 presidential and vice-presidential nominees, and he found a serious gap in the public’s knowledge of McCain's health. McCain is also not willing to share all of his health information with the public unlike previous presidential nominees.
McCain underwent extensive surgery in 2000 to remove a malignant melanoma. He still has scars on his left cheek from that surgery.
Last May, the McCain campaign and his doctors released nearly 1,200 pages of medical information, many times more than other three nominees. However, the documents were given to a selected number of journalists for a short period of time -- they didn’t allow anyone to take photos or copies of any of the pages.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN was one of them. He wrote:
"We were given three hours to go over 1,200 pages of records. That is a lot to go through. It was very sort of cloak and dagger and I'm sure they had their reasons. Given that I had my medical training, I was able to hone in on what it thought was important more quickly. But the pages weren't numbered, so I had no way of knowing what was missing... As a reporter I can only comment on what I saw but I can't say by any means that this was complete... As far as the secretiveness of it, what they said to us is that you can't take anything out of the room, but you could make notes. So it was a lot to go through in a short period of time."
Since then, more than 2,700 doctors have signed a petition and requested the documents be released to the public. McCain and his campaign have refused to do so.
If John McCain wins the election, he will be 72 years old and will become the oldest man to win the presidency. He will also be the first cancer survivor to win office.
The New York Times says there are inconsistencies in medical opinions about the severity of McCain's melanoma, but without a full analysis of the 1,200-page report, no concrete answers can be given.
In 1999, McCain provided all documents to reporters including psychological records. Those records showed he suffered injuries during his Vietnam prison years and as a result he cannot lift his arms up completely. He also tried to commit suicide by hanging himself with his shirt during those prison years. The records also showed he suffered melanoma in his shoulders in 1993.
Then, doctors detected melanoma again in 2000, when he ran against George W. Bush. One of them was in his temple with a Stage II melanoma (Stage IV is the deadliest). McCain had to undergo extensive surgery on his face and neck for the melanoma on Aug. 19, 2000. McCain's Mayo Clinic doctors concluded he is fit to run for president but didn't give details about his melanoma or clarify whether they did more tests afterward.
Altmann asks:
If Mr. McCain’s 2000 left-temple melanoma was a metastasis, as the Armed Forces pathologists’ report suggested, it would be classified as Stage III. The reclassification would change his statistical odds for survival at 10 years from about 60 percent to 36 percent, according to a published study.
The greatest risk of recurrence of melanoma is in the first few years of detecting it. But McCain's age and the presence of melanoma on his face increases that risk. If melanoma reoccurs, the treatment will be severe and could be debilitating to the point of impairing an individual’s physical and mental stamina. Under these conditions, the Vice-President could take over the presidency.
The Washington Post also reported last week that many doctors believe McCain’s melanoma is more advanced than what his physicians have concluded and the chance of recurrences are higher.
You can see an interactive chart showing the presidential and vice-presidential nominees sharing the medical history with the press.
Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Joe Biden released their current medical records to the New York Times, which show that they are healthy. Biden’s records, however, don’t show that he recently had a test to detect any aneurysms. Biden had to undergo emergency surgery in 1988 for an aneurysm in an artery in his brain and elective surgery for a second one. Recent tests will help to analyze Biden’s health.
Palin’s medical history is kept private, according to Altman. He said in an article:
"Nothing is known publicly about Ms. Palin's medical history...aside from the much-discussed circumstances surrounding the birth of her fifth child last April. Ms. Palin has said that her water broke while she was at a conference in Dallas and that she flew to Anchorage, where she gave birth to her son Trig hours after landing.
Maria Comella, Palin’s spokeswoman, told the press last week that the governor declines to be interviewed or provide any health records.
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