- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004


Ronald Reagan, who at 69 was the oldest man ever elected president of the United States, maintained a thumbs-up demeanor for the public during several bouts with illness during and after his presidency.

In later years, however, as Alzheimer’s took a toll on his mental functioning, he was seen less and less in public. He died of the disease yesterday, nine years and seven months after he announced the diagnosis.

The most traumatic health scare was on March 30, 1981, just 10 weeks into his presidency, when a would-be assassin’s bullet hit Mr. Reagan in the upper chest.

The bullet, entering below the left arm, traveled downward and was deflected into the left lung, coming to rest an inch from his heart. He was rushed to a hospital, complaining of soreness in the rib cage, and collapsed in the hospital corridor.

The bullet was removed during three hours of surgery, and Mr. Reagan spent 12 days in the hospital. During his recuperation, he was photographed smiling in his robe and joked to his wife, Nancy: “Honey, I forgot to duck.”

In July 1985, Mr. Reagan underwent surgery to remove a suspicious polyp from his colon. Two feet of the intestine was removed, and tests days later revealed that the growth was cancerous but had not spread far. Doctors were confident that they had removed all the disease, and tests during the rest of Reagan’s presidency showed no sign of cancer.

Doctors quoted Mr. Reagan as saying after the surgery, “Well, I’m glad that that’s all out.”

He also had surgery during his second presidential term for skin cancer (1985), for enlargement of the prostate (1987), and for Dupuytrin’s contracture, a condition that caused one of his fingers to curve inward (1989).

Later in 1989, after leaving the White House, he was thrown from a horse and, weeks later, had neurosurgery to remove a pool of blood that formed on his brain.

When he announced his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in November 1994, Mr. Reagan said in a letter to the American people he hoped his disclosure would improve public knowledge about the disease, as his past disclosures had raised awareness about cancer.

“At the moment, I feel just fine,” he wrote. “I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done.”

The incurable disease destroys the brain’s memory cells, eventually causing personality change and disorientation. About 100,000 Americans die from it every year.

“Unfortunately, as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden,” Mr. Reagan wrote. “I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience.”

He wrote he was making the disease public for a purpose. “In the past, Nancy suffered from breast cancer, and I had my cancer surgeries. We found, through our open disclosures, we were able to raise public awareness. We were happy that, as a result, many more people underwent testing.”

At times during Mr. Reagan’s stay in the White House, he seemed forgetful and would lose his train of thought while talking. However, doctors said Alzheimer’s was not to blame, noting the disease was diagnosed years after he left office.

He made few public appearances after his diagnosis was announced but continued meeting with friends. As his disease progressed, however, he had more and more difficulty recognizing people.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide