- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2004

Attorney General John Ashcroft was taken to the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital Thursday night after complaining of stomach pains, and he remained in intensive care yesterday with a severe case of gallstone pancreatitis, the Justice Department said.

Deputy Attorney General James Comey, under Justice Department guidelines, was authorized yesterday to exercise “all power and authority” of the attorney general’s office.

Justice Department spokes-man Mark Corallo said Mr. Ashcroft, 61, was admitted to intensive care for “careful monitoring” Thursday night after canceling a scheduled appearance in Alexandria to announce the verdicts in a terrorism case.

“Believing he had a stomach flu, he went home and when the condition worsened he was visited by White House physician Daniel Parks, who advised that he go to the emergency room,” Mr. Corallo said in a statement. “After a full medical work up in the emergency room, it was determined he was suffering from a severe case of gallstone pancreatitis.”

Doctors at George Washington University Hospital said more time was needed to specifically evaluate Mr. Ashcroft’s condition, but that in the meantime he was being treated with antibiotics and painkillers. It was unclear yesterday how long the attorney general would remain at the hospital, although Justice Department authorities said the treatment could last for several days.

According to officials at the Mayo Clinic, pancreatitis often is caused by gallstones leaving the gallbladder and lodging near and obstructing the pancreatic duct. The obstruction, they said, is likely to cause an intense, constant pain in the upper abdomen that may radiate to the back or chest.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, high fever, difficulty in breathing and abdominal bruises from internal bleeding, they said. Pain can be severe, the officials added, noting on the Mayo Clinic Web page: “It’s a stomachache like you’ve never had before.”

“The pain in your upper abdomen bores through to your back. Lying flat causes your abdomen to hurt even more, so to relieve the pain, you double over. Pain like this — which may last for many hours to days — is typical of pancreatitis,” the Web page said.

Mr. Ashcroft, who neither drinks nor smokes, is known for his fitness and has not had health problems before. He often skips the elevator to walk the five stories to his Justice Department office.

The National Institutes of Health said about 80,000 cases of pancreatitis occur in the United States each year and about 20 percent of them are severe. The NIH said acute pancreatitis can be life-threatening.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush spoke briefly with Mr. Ashcroft by telephone yesterday. “Our thoughts are with the attorney general,” Mr. McClellan said in Crawford, Texas. “We wish him a speedy recovery.”

On a campaign swing through New Orleans, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, who is often critical of Mr. Ashcroft, said: “I hope everybody will say their prayers that he gets well.”

Mr. Ashcroft, a former Missouri state auditor, attorney general, governor and U.S. senator, was nominated as U.S. attorney general by President-elect Bush in December 2000. A conservative Republican, Mr. Ashcroft had lost his re-election bid to Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash three weeks before election day.

He survived a contentious and well-orchestrated five-week battle by Democrats and liberal civil rights groups to be the 79th U.S. attorney general, immediately ordering a mandatory drug test for himself and promising to lead a Justice Department “free from politics and defined by integrity.”

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