Ill-Health: World leaders who battle health challenges while in office

Globally, it sometimes happens that leaders contend with one illness or the other.

As President Muhammadu Buhari takes another trip to Britain for medicals, we look at leaders, past and present globally, who contends/contended with one illness or the other while in office…

Theresa May (diabetes and barrenness)

The 60-year-old British Prime Minister was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus of type 1 in November 2012. She is treated with four insulin injections daily.

She also battles sterility, having been married in 1980 but she and her husband have no biological child — something she regrets, according to Wikipedia.

Not the type to give up, May had told an interviewer, “I would like the message to get across that it doesn’t change what you can do.

“The fact is that you can still do whatever you want to do. For example, on holiday, my husband and I do a lot of quite strenuous walking up mountains in Switzerland, and it doesn’t stop me doing it. I can still do things like that and can still do the job.”

Tony Blair (heart condition)

Now 64 years old, Tony Blair became British Prime Minister when he was 44, and he was in office until age 54.

In 2004, Blair complained of chest pains and irregular heartbeat. At the Hammersmith hospital in west London where he was rushed to for emergency treatment, he was diagnosed as suffering from supraventricular tachycardia — a type of heart rhythm disorder in which the heart beats faster than normal.

To douse tension, then, Blair informed the citizens, “It’s not particularly alarming but it’s something that you should get fixed – it’s a routine procedure.

“I’ve had it for the last couple of months and it’s not impeded me doing my work and feeling fine, but it is as well to get it done.”

Gordon Brown (Eye problems)

Now 66, Gordon Brown was in office for three years, having assumed the British Prime ministership aged 56.

In 2009, on a television show, Brown revealed that he had difficulty with his eyesight. He said he lost the sight in one eye after a teenage rugby accident and had a retinal detachment in the other eye, a situation that gave him concerns that he might completely lose his sight someday.

He told his interviewer: “Although I have problems with my eyes and it has been very difficult over the years, I think people understand that you can do a job and you can work hard.

“And I think it would be a terrible indictment of our political system if you thought that because someone had this medical issue, they couldn’t do the job.

“I feel that I have done everything to show people that I can do the job even with the handicap that I’ve had as a result of a rugby injury.”

Ronald Reagan (Alzheimer’s)

Ronald Reagan, now late, served two terms as American president from 1981 to 1989. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years after leaving office in 1994. However, researchers at the University of Arizona suspected that he was already living with the diseases as a president and long before his condition was diagnosed.

They had written of his ailment, “President Reagan showed a significant reduction in the number of unique words over time and a significant increase in conversational fillers and non-specific nouns.”

John F Kennedy (Autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome type 2)

When JFK was elected US president in 1960, he was 43 years old. Historians say that he suffered various health challenges that were controlled by doses of steroids and other drugs.

Among those problems was Addison’s disease or autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome type 2. Experts say this disease causes the adrenal glands to wither, leading to complications such as fatigue, dizziness, muscle weakness, weight loss, difficulty standing up, nausea, sweating, and changes in mood and personality.

The UK Guardian reports that Kennedy once collapsed during a congressional visit to Britain as a result of Addison’s disease.

“His medical records, studied posthumously by navy doctor Lee R Mandel, revealed that Kennedy was taking 500mg of vitamin C twice daily; 10mg of hydrocortisone daily; 2.5mg of prednisone twice daily; 10mg of methyltestosterone daily (to combat weight loss and gonadal atrophy associated with the steroids he was taking); 25mg of liothyronine (a synthetic thyroid hormone) twice daily; 0.1mg fludrocortisone daily; and diphenoxylate hydrochloride and atropine sulfate, two tablets as needed,” Guardian wrote.

Franklin D Roosevelt (Poliomyelitis, blood pressure, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease)

According to Wiki, in 1921, at the age of 38, Roosevelt suffered a severe attack of polio, which resulted in the total paralysis of both legs.

In 1920, he had run as vice-president to Democratic candidate James M Cox. His illness seemed to threaten his future political career, but it did not.

In 1928, he was elected governor of New York and in 1932 defeated Herbert Hoover to become president, in which office he served until his death in 1945 – becoming thereby the last president to serve more than two four-year terms in office.

In 1944, hospital tests revealed that the president, a lifelong chain smoker, had high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease causing angina pectoris and congestive heart failure,” UK Guardian wrote; but his declining health was hidden from the public. He won a re-election in 1944, but died the following year due to a massive cerebral haemorrhage.

François Mitterrand (prostate cancer)

The French president died of prostate cancer in 1996, a year after the end of his two-term lasting 14 years. He and his doctors reportedly concealed his condition from the French public.

The UK Guardian wrote that David Owen, in his book, In Sickness and in Power: Illness in Heads of Government During the Last 100 Years, reveals the lengths they went to conceal his condition.

According to Owen, “When Mitterrand had to be given regular intravenous oestrogen hormone therapy, the president’s personal physician hung the intravenous drip on a picture hook or a coat hanger so as not to have to hammer a nail into the wall of an embassy or another government’s guest house.”

Harold Wilson (colon cancer, Alzheimer’s)

Harold Wilson was British prime minister for two terms. During his second term between 1974 and 1976, he suffered symptoms that were later diagnosed as colon cancer. He was also suspected to have suffered from Alzheimer’s while in office.

He was suspected to have retired as a result of the cognitive impairment for which Alzheimer’s is known.
Winston Churchill (Severe depression, heart attack, pneumonia, stroke)

In his 1966 memoir, Charles Wilson, the personal physician to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, revealed that “Black Dog” was the name Churchill gave to “the prolonged fits of depression from which he suffered”.

The claim has remained controversial, though Churchill acknowledged in his book, Painting as a Pastime, that he was prey to the “worry and mental over-strain (experienced) by persons who, over prolonged periods, have to bear exceptional responsibilities and discharge duties upon a very large scale.”

He suffered a heart attack during a visit to the White House in 1941 and contracted pneumonia a few years later.

During his second term as prime minister from 1951 to 1955, Churchill was, in the words of his biographer Roy Jenkins, “gloriously unfit for office”. Ageing and increasingly unwell, he often conducted business from his bedside. He had suffered a stroke while on holiday in 1949 and, while in office in 1953, suffered another.

Despite being paralysed down one side and doctors fearing he might not survive the weekend, he conducted a cabinet meeting, allegedly without anyone noticing his struggles.

News of his stroke was kept from parliament and the public, who were told that he was suffering merely from exhaustion. He left office in 1955. A year after his retirement, he suffered another stroke.

Sources: Wikipedia, WebMd, UK Guardian

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