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Public Papers - 1991 - May

Statement by Press Secretary Fitzwater on the President's Health


President Bush's diagnosis today remains essentially the same as last night. He continues to take digoxin and procainamide for the atrial fibrillation. While there have been some indications of a positive response to the medicine, the President's heartbeat has not returned to its normal rhythm. The President is wearing a heart monitor and the doctors continue to watch his progress.

In order to allow continued observation of the President, he will remain overnight at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Mrs. Bush has returned to the White House. The President has spent a relatively active day at the hospital, conferring with Governor Sununu, General Scowcroft, his doctors, Mrs. Bush, and other friends that he has called. He visited with his son Marvin and his daughter, Dorothy, at the hospital, as well as his grandchildren Sam and Ellie LeBlond.

The President's medical team met for nearly 2 hours this evening, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., to discuss the latest test data. They report that the President is in fine condition, good spirits, and showing some response to the medicine. They will review the President's progress again tomorrow morning, perhaps as early as 5 a.m. or 6 a.m.

The doctors report that atrial fibrillation can last for varying periods of time, sometimes only a few hours, sometimes longer. It is a condition that must be continually analyzed, but can be treated in a number of ways. Because the President is now entering his second day with this heart irregularity, there has been considerable speculation about courses of medical treatment. We want to assure the American people that the President is in a healthy condition. He has not suffered a heart attack. He has not suffered heart muscle damage.

We remain hopeful that the medication will return his heart to normal rhythm. If by morning that is not the case, the doctors will consider electricalcardioversion. This procedure is well-known and relatively commonplace. The risk is minimal, particularly in a patient such as the President who has no demonstrable heart disease. Nevertheless, it would require general anesthesia, which would be expected to incapacitate the President for only a short period of time. The final decision on this will be made tomorrow morning. During the short time that the President would be under anesthesia, the Vice President would be Acting President under the 25th amendment.

Once again, I want to emphasize that we hope that the President will respond to his medicine in a way that returns his heartbeat to normal and no further treatment will be needed. The doctors will make that evaluation early tomorrow morning.

Note: The Press Secretary read the statement to reporters at 9:02 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House. John H. Sununu was Chief of Staff to the President, and Brent Scowcroft was Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.

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