5 Politicians Who Continued Working Successfully after Heart Attacks

Tuesday, October 22, 2019
President Eisenhower after his Heart zattack

After Sen. Bernie Sanders was hospitalized for a heart attack, some commentators questioned whether this disqualified him from being president of the United States. However, many political leaders have successfully continued their work after surviving heart attacks. Here are 5 notable examples, including two presidents of the United States and one vice-president of the United States.


1. President Dwight D. Eisenhower

A former heavy smoker, President Eisenhower became ill after playing golf in Colorado on  September 24, 1955, two and a half years into his first term as president of the United States. It was 12 hours before his physician realized that Eisenhower had experienced a massive heart attack. He spent the next seven weeks at Fitzsimons Army Hospital. In the days before effective surgery, angioplasty and stents, there was concern that Eisenhower might not be able to serve out his term of office. However, not only did he do so, but he ran for a second term and won and completed that term as well.


2. President Lyndon Johnson

While serving as Senate majority leader, Johnson, who smoked 60 cigarettes a day, suffered a major heart attack on July 2, 1955. Senator George Smathers of Florida operated as acting majority leader for several months until Johnson recovered his strength. Johnson went on to serve as vice-president of the United States and then U.S. president from 1963 until 1969.


3. Vice-President Dick Cheney

Like Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson, Dick Cheney was a heavy smoker (three packs a day). He had the first of his five heart attacks in 1978 and the others in 1984, 1988, 2000, and 2010. He underwent surgeries in 1988, 2000 and 2001 (twice). During the period that included his first four heart attacks, Cheney served in the House of Representatives (1979-1989), as secretary of defense (1989-1993) and vice-president of the United States (2001-2009).


4. Representative James J. Howard

A Democrat in a majority Republican district, James J. Howard represented New Jersey’s Third Congressional District for 23 years. For many Congressional observers, he is best known for promoting the idea of a 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. Howard suffered heart attacks in 1974 and 1978. He served as chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee from 1981 until his death in 1988.


5. Tom Hayden

Former political radical Tom Hayden was elected to the California State Assembly in 1982 and served in that body for ten years before moving on to the California State Senate for another eight years. He suffered a heart attack while vacationing in New Mexico on August 19, 2001. He wrote several books and articles after his recovery, including Ending the War in Iraq (2007) and the posthumously published Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement (2017).

-David Wallechinsky


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