- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

BALTIMORE — Abraham Lincoln could have survived if today’s medical technology existed in 1865, an emergency-room surgeon says.

How Lincoln’s survival would have affected history is less clear, according to a doctor and a historian who plan to speak today at an annual University of Maryland School of Medicine conference on the deaths of historic figures.

Although the conference traditionally has re-examined the deaths of historic figures to determine whether the diagnosis at the time was correct, this year’s event asks whether Lincoln could have been saved and what effect that would have had.

Dr. Thomas Scalea, physician in chief at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, said brain injuries are unpredictable, but Lincoln would have stood a good chance of surviving.

“It’s a little hard to know, but I think it’s a fair statement to say this is not necessarily a fatal injury; he doesn’t have to die,” said Dr. Scalea, who will explain how Lincoln would have been treated at his center, the world’s first dedicated trauma center.

The real question would have been whether Lincoln would have been able to return to office, Dr. Scalea said.

Lincoln died within 10 hours of being shot in the head at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. If modern methods could have saved the 16th president, he may also have retained his cognitive abilities because the fatal shot did not damage the frontal lobes of Lincoln’s brain, which are responsible for language, emotion and problem solving, Dr. Scalea said.

However, Lincoln would have faced months of recovery before he could have returned to office and whether he would have been able to communicate is not known, he said.

Presidential historian Steven Lee Carson said Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, who made a number of important decisions the day after the assassination, likely would have played a greater role if Lincoln had survived.

Had Lincoln survived, Vice President Andrew Johnson would not automatically have taken charge because the 25th Amendment, which deals with the transfer of power when a president is incapacitated, did not become part of the Constitution until after the Kennedy assassination. The decision as to who took charge was handled on a case-by-case basis until then, Mr. Carson said.

For example, Woodrow Wilson’s wife essentially took over when her husband fell ill, Mr. Carson said.

Johnson, who took office after Lincoln’s death, was the only Southern senator not to leave office upon secession. Lincoln had put him on the presidential ticket as a symbol of unity, but Johnson was a Southern Democrat who was not sympathetic to Lincoln’s Republican Party or to helping the newly freed slaves, said Mr. Carson, who also will speak at the conference.

If Stanton had continued in Lincoln’s place, the country “would have been a better and more just nation, especially on race matters, in a far quicker fashion,” Mr. Carson said.

Johnson eventually tried to replace Stanton, an abolitionist and a close friend of Lincoln’s, thus prompting the attempt by Republicans to remove Johnson from office by impeachment.

Previous conferences have examined the deaths of Alexander the Great, Mozart, Beethoven, Edgar Allan Poe and others. This year’s event is part of the School of Medicine’s bicentennial celebration and the annual reunion of its Medical Alumni Association.

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