- - Tuesday, April 28, 2015


We the people feel entitled to a president of the United States who is in good enough health so that he or she can endure the pressures of the job without suffering a heart attack, stroke or sudden death.

Of course, any good physician will tell you that she can’t be entirely sure of health risks, and our presidential candidates shouldn’t be gauged entirely by physical criteria alone. Still, full health disclosure must be a prerequisite for running for the highest office in the land.

This was why the disparity between the political parties was glaring when it came to disclosing health history back in 2008. I traveled to Phoenix and joined other members of the news media poring through thousands of pages of Sen. John McCain’s health records. At the same time, Sen. Barack Obama was releasing only a single page of health affirmation from his personal physician. True, Mr. McCain had a history of a melanoma requiring extensive facial surgery for a cure, but Mr. Obama was a longtime smoker.

I am expecting more of the same kind of disparity in the 2016 election. Full disclosure has never been a strong suit of newly announced candidate Hillary Clinton. From Benghazi to the email scandal to reported money-making schemes rocking the Clinton Foundation, secrecy has been the operative term rather than transparency. I can easily imagine deleted emails that referred to the heart valve or heart arrhythmia problem mentioned in Ed Klein’s 2014 book, “Blood Feud.”

John Podesta, chairman of Hillary’s 2016 presidential campaign, didn’t give a very satisfying answer when he was asked by Al Hunt on Charlie Rose’s PBS show earlier this month whether she would release her full medical records. He said, “she’ll have a release that’s consistent with what a lot of people have done in practice, which is people will know that she’s in very good health, and there’ll be reassurance from her doctors that the when it’s appropriate.”

This sounds an awful lot like the one-page letter that then-Sen. Obama gave us. But Mrs. Clinton has a much more extensive health history.

She has a history of a blood clot in her leg as well as fainting episodes culminating in a fall and concussion in 2012. This was followed by a blood clot outside her brain known as a Transverse Sinus Thrombosis. Chances are she is now taking a blood thinner like warfarin or Xarelto for life, and though these can be managed safely in most patients, at the same time her propensity for faints and falls is concerning.

Now approaching 70, only slightly younger than Mr. McCain was back in 2008, I believe it is crucial that Mrs. Clinton release her complete health records so that we can assess her heart function, clotting and fainting problems, and determine the potential risks if she were to become president.

However, if her handling of previous public demands for disclosure or Mr. Podesta’s statement are any indication, don’t expect Hillary to pony up her full health records any time soon, even if she is the Democratic nominee and the Republican lays all his health history cards on the table.

When she developed the blood clot beneath her skull in 2012, I reached out to her neurologist at Columbia University only to encounter a cone of silence. This was a far cry from the open climate surrounding Bill Clinton’s heart bypass surgery back in 2004, when (reporting for The Washington Post), I was able to extract a very detailed account of each clogged artery from his heart surgeon, Dr. Craig Smith.

Don’t get me wrong, in this day of modern medicine and effective treatments I am not expecting a medical roadblock here any more than I was anticipating one with Mr. McCain. We are long past the time of William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia in April 1841 after only one month in office. These days we have antibiotics to treat infections.

Still, we the people have a right to know and to decide for ourselves whether a health problem is significant or not. There should be a uniform standard applied to all candidates. That standard should be based on full disclosure. There is too much at stake to approach it any other way.

People who voted for “Tippecanoe” Harrison ended up with John Tyler, one of the most obscure and ineffective presidents in American history. The last thing we need is to see that tragedy repeated.

I am hoping this is not an election where medical limitations are a deciding factor. But as with Mr. McCain, we need the facts in order to know.

Marc Siegel, a physician, is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center. He is the author of “False Alarm: The Truth about the Epidemic of Fear” (Wiley, 2006), and is a Fox News medical correspondent.

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