|RAY SUAREZ: According to medical records released this week,
former President John F. Kennedy was in far greater pain and
taking many more medications during his presidency than
physician Jeffrey Kelman examined the records with historian
Robert Dallek, whose excerpts from an upcoming biography appear
in this month's Atlantic Monthly. Dr. Kelman joins us now. Well,
John F. Kennedy was famously the youngest man elected to the
office. But it sounds like he had been sick for a really long
DR. JEFFREY KELMAN: John Kennedy was sick from age 13 on. In
1930, when he was 13, he developed abdominal pain. By 1934 he
was sent to the Mayo Clinic where they diagnosed colitis
(please read link) or it
was called colitis. By 1940 his back started hurting him, by
1944 he had his first back operation, by 1947 he was officially
diagnosed as having Addison's Disease.
And he was basically sick from then on through the rest of
his life. He had two back operations, in '54 and '55, which
failed. And he needed chronic pain medication from '55 through
his White House years, until he died in Dallas. He was never
healthy. I mean, the image you get of vigor and progressive
health wasn't true. He was playing through pain most of the
presidency. See Janet Travell JFK
RAY SUAREZ: You reviewed his medical records.
DR. JEFFREY KELMAN: In aid of this new biography by Robert
Dowling, we went to the Kennedy library where they opened the
medical archives for the first time and we went back and
interviewed all the records, starting from his time in the Mayo
Clinic all the way up to his death.
|RAY SUAREZ: And this was a guy who had to do
what just to get through a day?
JEFFREY KELMAN: By the time he was president, he was on ten, 12
medications a day. He was on antispasmodics for his bowel,
paregoric, lamodal transatine [ph], he was on muscle relaxants,
Phenobarbital, Librium, Meprobomate, he was on pain medications,
Codeine, Demerol, Methadone, he was on oral cortisone; he was on
injected cortisone, he was on testosterone, he was on Nembutal
for sleep. And on top of that he was getting injected sometimes
six times a day, six places on his back, by the White House
physician, with Novocain, Procaine, just to enable him to face
RAY SUAREZ: Now, in the late '40s he was diagnosed with
DR. JEFFREY KELMAN: Right.
RAY SUAREZ: Which is what exactly?
DR. JEFFREY KELMAN: Addison's Disease is adrenal
insufficiency. The adrenal gland makes corticosteroids and other
hormones that are used for salt metabolism, response to stress,
response to inflammation. In '47 he was officially diagnosed in
England, as being adrenally insufficient, and from that point
on, at least that point on, he was being treated with daily
corticosteroids of some form or another. There is some evidence
he was actually being treated earlier, with a form of
[inaudible] implanted under his skin. But at,
from '47 he had to receive daily steroids to survive.
RAY SUAREZ: Now whether this was Addison's or simple adrenal
insufficiency, this is still pretty dangerous?
DR. JEFFREY KELMAN: It's always dangerous; without being
supported, patients die. And the steroids themselves have side
effects, including susceptibility to infection. Kennedy needed
multiple courses of antibiotics, he had urinary infections, skin
infections, he had respiratory infections.
SUAREZ: Can you, from the distance of 40 years, from what you
were able to look at, his X-rays, his medical records, his
prescriptions, talk about whether or how these illnesses
affected his performance?
DR. JEFFREY KELMAN: We went to a lot of trouble, I mean, you
can make a time line at the Kennedy Library looking at day by
day, sometimes hour by hour, the history of the Kennedy
presidency. And in correlating it as well as you could with the
medical records, didn't seem to have affected his presidency at
all. His judgment wasn't warped, in spite of the fact that he
seemed to be in pain a great deal of the time, it didn't affect
his performance as president. In certain ways I came out of it
thinking he was a heroic character.
RAY SUAREZ: Was his appearance altered by the drugs that he
DR. JEFFREY KELMAN: He gained and lost weight, both from the
colitis and from the steroids, and from the appetite, that's why
he was on testosterone, in order to stimulate muscle growth and
stimulate his appetite. So his performance -- his appearance
rather did change from time to time.
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