'I almost died,' Fetterman says as Senate campaign heats up
HARRISBURG — John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, who is recovering from a stroke, said Friday that he almost died from the episode after ignoring warning signs for years and a doctor's advice to take blood thinners.
Fetterman spoke in a statement released by his campaign, and has remained out of public view as he recovers ahead of the fall general election in what is expected to be one of the nation’s premier Senate contests.
“The stroke I suffered on May 13 didn’t come out of nowhere,” Fetterman said, and “as a result, I almost died. I want to encourage others to not make the same mistake.”
In a separate statement released through his campaign Friday, Fetterman’s cardiologist disclosed that Fetterman has cardiomyopathy, in which the heart muscle becomes weakened and enlarged. Cardiomyopathy can impede blood flow and potentially cause heartbeats so irregular they can be fatal.
The acknowledgment was the first public comment by a doctor for Fetterman since the candidate first took to social media on May 15 to disclose that he had a stroke.
Fetterman, 52, easily won the Democratic nomination in a four-way race while in the hospital four days after the stroke and just hours after undergoing surgery to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator.
The stroke has raised questions about Fetterman's fitness to campaign for the office, including what continuing effects he might have from the stroke.
Already, attack ads are flying in the race, even as the Senate Republican primary contest is bogged down in a statewide recount, more than two weeks after the election.
On Friday evening, former hedge fund CEO David McCormick conceded that race to celebrity heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, as he acknowledged the recount wouldn’t give him enough votes to make up the deficit. The Associated Press has not yet declared a winner because of the recount.
Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, has not said when he will return to the campaign trail and did not show up to preside over floor sessions of the state Senate last week.
Fetterman said doctors have told him to continue to rest, eat well, exercise and focus on his recovery, “and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
Fetterman acknowledged that he ignored warning signs after visiting the doctor because of swollen feet in 2017 and learning that he had a heart condition.
The cardiologist, Dr. Ramesh Chandra, told him that he never would have had a stroke had he continued taking blood thinners, Fetterman said.
Chandra said Fetterman will be fine if he eats healthy foods, takes prescribed medication and exercises.
Fetterman has been open about his push to lose weight in the past. At 6 feet 8, he weighed in at over 400 pounds before losing nearly 150 pounds in 2018, when he ran for lieutenant governor.
He said he had thought — wrongly — that losing weight and exercising would be enough.
Fetterman has said that his stroke was caused by a heart condition called atrial fibrillation and that doctors implanted the pacemaker May 17 to manage it.
Doctors removed the clot in Fetterman’s brain through a thrombectomy procedure, his campaign said. That means extracting it by inserting a catheter through a big artery, usually in the groin.
However, Fetterman had not answered questions about why doctors implanted a defibrillator along with it — until Friday.
Chandra said the defibrillator, which delivers corrective shocks when it senses life-threatening irregular rhythms, was implanted because of Fetterman's cardiomyopathy.
Fetterman has not made a public appearance, other than a couple of brief videos of him posted on social media speaking at the hospital May 15 and leaving it a week later.
On Wednesday, Fetterman saw his neurologist, campaign spokesperson Joe Calvello said.
The neurologist was impressed with Fetterman's progress and said that cognitively, “John is perfect, and well on his way to a full recovery,” Calvello said.
Fetterman does not have paralysis from the stroke, and is up, walking around, running errands and having calls with staff, Calvello said.
Fetterman's neurologist has not spoken with reporters.
Most stroke patients experience some sort of physical impairment, according to Dr. Matt Starr, associate director of UMPC Stroke Institute.
Long-term physical symptoms of stroke range widely, from minor muscle weakness to muscle stiffness and spasms to complete paralysis, typically on one side of the body.
When stroke does cause physical impairment, “the greatest recovery happens in the first three months after the stroke,” said Dr. Mitchell Elkind, a Columbia University neurologist and immediate past president of the American Heart Association.
Most stroke patients do show at least some signs of recovery, and full recovery is possible, Elkind said.