Reviewing Our Leaders’ Health On Presidents’ Day

The third Monday of February is a federal holiday celebrating the birthday of George Washington, who was born on February 22, 1732. However, the day is now also known as Presidents’ Day and that name is given to honor all prior United States presidents, not only George Washington. Three other presidents have February birthdays and this includes Abraham Lincoln, William Henry Harrison, and Ronald Reagan.

Birthdays are a cause for celebration, especially if the celebrant is still living. We hope that all active presidents enjoy good health, but history tells us that eight of the 44 presidents have died in office. This list includes W.H. Harrison who died in 1841, probably from pneumonia after only 31 days in office. Unfortunately, four presidents, Abraham Lincoln, James A. Gar eld, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy, were assassinated while in office. Zachary Taylor died of intestinal ailments in 1850, and Warren G. Harding died of an apparent heart attack in 1923 at the age of 57. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our longest serving president, died of a stroke in 1945.

Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt and later recovered from colon cancer surgery while still in office. He was also one of our presidents who lived the longest, at 93 years and 120 days. Gerald R. Ford lived 93 years 165 days. George W. Bush was born on June 6, 1924 and Jimmy Carter’s birthday is on October 1, 1924. Both are still living.

Not All Presidents Were Healthy

Franklin D. Roosevelt was a chain smoker and was diagnosed with polio in 1921. He also is believed to have suffered from hypertension well, as cardiovascular disease.

Not all presidents were perfectly healthy even if they appeared so. John F. Kennedy had a disease consistent with adrenal insufficiency also known as Addison’s disease. He also required hormone replacement for hypothyroidism.

Those of us who are my age may remember back in the early 1960s President Kennedy’s interest in physical fitness. In 1963 he had the name of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness changed to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness to emphasize physical fitness for all ages.

Dwight Eisenhower suffered a myocardial infarction three years after his first term and also later required surgery to relieve a small bowel obstruction probably caused by Crohn’s disease. Lyndon Johnson underwent a cholecystectomy on Labor Day weekend in 1965.

Bloodletting Probably Killed George Washington

George Washington was probably one of our most healthy presidents, yet he died from what appears to have been strep throat on December 14, 1799. At that time “bleeding” or bloodletting, was a popular treatment. There is conjecture that he might have had almost 80 percent of his blood volume withdrawn during several bloodletting sessions which probably contributed to his death at age 67.

Abraham Lincoln may have been one of our presidents with the greatest physical strength. Several sources state that on a bet he lifted a full barrel of whiskey up to near shoulder height. The assumed weight of the wooden barrel and weight of 40 gallons of the liquid would total more than 400 pounds. Lincoln studied Euclid’s Elements which helped him present logical documentation and proofs for his court cases. Truly a self-educated man, Lincoln also wrote poetry.

There are three possible spellings that represent this holiday: President’s Day, Presidents’ Day and Presidents Day. We also have 44 choices and birthdays to celebrate regardless of the spelling variations. Let’s hope that all presidents give us good reasons to celebrate.


Dr. David Keisler was an Army brat who lived all over the USA and North Africa. A graduate of the Citadel and the Medical University of South Carolina, he trained in the U.S. Army where he was a GI fellow and then staff physician in San Francisco at the Letterman Army Medical Center. He is board certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology and is a partner with Aiken Internal Medicine. An Aiken resident since 1983, he and his wife Jane have two daughters and ve grandchildren nearby.