Did F.D.R have PPS?
From a Post to the Post-Polio-Med Email List With Permission From
Henry Holland, M.D.

Date: Mon, 18 Jan 1999 18:39:26 EST
From: Henry Holland Henry4FDR@AOL.COM

I know the discussion of FDR, his polio, and the likelihood of his having PPS is not really an appropriate topic for this forum. However, In April of 1997, I posted a letter regarding FDR and his PPS. The letter also speaks to the FDR Memorial which is now in place. The letter is pasted below.

F.D.R. Memorial

Did FDR have PPS? I think that he probably did particularly in his last year of life. He definitely had rather severe hypertension and as a result of the hypertension, he developed congestive heart failure. The only medications available at that time were Digitalis for the heart failure and Phenobarbital for the hypertension. He was also wisely put on a diet, advised to get more rest, stop smoking, and stop swimming and doing physically exerting things. The young Navy cardiologist who managed his medical care during his last year of life provided good medical advice at that time.

FDR did lose weight and the weight loss made him look even more haggard. He never totally stopped smoking but did cut back. He rested more and did less campaigning in the Fall of '44. His Fala Speech probably did more to swing that election than anything else. During that last year, he rarely wore the braces or attempted to walk. He had more signs of weakness returning to his arms and hands. Transferring became more difficult. He did go by boat to Yalta and got plenty of rest according to his daughter Anna who accompanied him on the trip.

Franklin Roosevelt Biography

He loved the sea. The conferences at Yalta were held in the afternoon and he seemed to function fine mentally. He was not aware of how close the development of the Atomic bomb was to becoming a reality. Politically, he wanted to get a commitment from Stalin that Russia would enter the War and start an offensive against the Japanese to help the USA in the defeat of Japan with the loss of less American lives. He got this commitment, but it never was needed because of the Atomic bomb. I think FDR did have mental fatigue but I believe that he got adequate rest and this fatigue did not impair his decision making ability.

We ourselves know that we can think just fine if we get rest. All one has to do is read the posts on this listserv to determine that we seem to think effectively. FDR's last speech was delivered to Congress in early March 1945 while he was seated. This was the only speech to Congress that he delivered seated and the only time that he referred to his handicap when he stated that he had just returned from a long trip (Yalta) and that he was carrying about ten pounds of steel on his legs.

There are two books that describe some of what I am posting. Hugh Gallagher's (a PPSer himself) "FDR's Splendid Deception" and "The Last Year of FDR's Life" {FDR's Last Year : April 1944-April 1945 by James Alonzo Bishop} written by another historian. I personally have read the article that appeared in the medical literature about 1971 by Dr. Howard G. Bruenn, the Navy cardiologist, who treated FDR. He felt the hypertension, heart failure, and the strain on FDR's body by polio contributed to his fatal massive cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945.

Anyway, I believe in retrospect that FDR had symptoms and signs of PPS but actually got fairly good treatment considering what was available at that time. He also silently followed doctors orders during this time and did not become an inquisitive pursuer of medical knowledge as he had done during the decade following his polio event in 1921. Perhaps he knew that his time was limited and did as so many of us do, never gave in to the end.

I think that if he were alive today, he would want his disability to be seen and not hidden. It is certainly true that the world leaders during those twelve years that he was President knew that he could not walk unassisted and this did not distract from his charisma, charm and leadership ability. Churchill said that being around FDR was like opening a new bottle of champagne.

Maybe all of his programs were not effective, but he was always trying to do something. Many of us do benefit from Social Security and where would we be without it. He was a great inspirational orator: "I promise a new deal for the American people"; "We have nothing to fear but fear itself"; "This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny"; "Yesterday, December 7th, a day that will live in infamy"; and one of my favorites was his Four Freedoms speech which was delivered in the State of the Union address in Jan. 1941 in which he talked about four essential freedoms for all people "everywhere in the world." The four freedoms were freedom of speech, freedom of worship of God (religion), freedom from fear, and freedom from want. I think that he was the greatest president of this century and he deserves a memorial in the company of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. I only wish there was obvious evidence of his braces or his unique kitchen chair wheelchair.

Enough on this topic, but you can easily tell that I have enjoyed studying the life of FDR, particularly from a medical and psychiatric perspective.

Henry Holland
Richmond, VA

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