Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is using publicity associated with his recovery from a heart procedure to boost his trademark Medicare for All proposal, although his campaign canceled public appearances after the 78-year-old lawmaker was hospitalized, appearance at a fundraiser in Las Vegas on Tuesday night.
At the fundraiser, Sanders appeared more subdued than usual, and asking for a chair to sit down while he fielded questions, he said: “It’s been a long day.”
A check up revealed a common heart condition, which was promptly treated surgically.
“During a campaign event yesterday evening, Sen. Sanders experienced some chest discomfort. Following medical evaluation and testing he was found to have a blockage in one artery, and two stents were successfully inserted,” said Jeff Weaver, the Vermont senator’s senior campaign adviser.
“Sen. Sanders is conversing and in good spirits. He will be resting up over the next few days,” Weaver said.
The independent senator surprised political observers Wednesday morning, when Sanders was found to have arterial blockages that were treated with stent insertions are common and relatively low-risk procedures, and the news overshadowed reports that his campaign posted the largest quarterly fundraising total for any Democratic presidential contender this year.
Dr. Howard C. Herrmann, the director of Interventional Cardiology at Penn Medicine, said it is common for someone Sanders’ age to have arterial blockages that may be treated with relatively low-risk procedures.
“Think of it as a pipe in your sink with some buildup in it,” said Herrmann. “The artery may have multiple areas of buildup, but then there are choke points where the buildup gets to be more than 70% or 80% and it actually blocks the blood flow, so you don’t get enough blood or oxygen to the heart muscle.”
Blockages tend to be driven by risk factors such as age, cholesterol levels and stress. Stents are tiny metal tubes that are inserted into arteries so blood can flow to the heart without obstruction.
“Thanks for all the well wishes. I’m feeling good. I’m fortunate to have good health care and great doctors and nurses helping me to recover,” said Sanders, on his Twitter account. “None of us know when a medical emergency might affect us. And no one should fear going bankrupt if it occurs. Medicare for All!”
Supporters sought to downplay the issue while opposing White House hopefuls expressed sympathy wrapped in words that raise doubts about Sanders’ age and health.
One supprter of Sen. Kamala Harris, Federico Chispas, flatly said: “Wish him well but he should’nt be running for President at 78 with heart issues.”
Questions about health and longevity could influence voting decisions not just for Sanders, but also for all of the septuagenarian candidates, including President Donald Trump. Trump is 73, Biden is 77, and Warren is 70.
Julián Castro, 45, who in September made a thinly veiled attack on Biden’s age by questioning his memory; South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 37, the youngest candidate in the race; 38-year-old Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02); and Andrew Yang, 44, have each faced questions about whether they have enough experience for the job.
“There are numerous presidents who have had heart problems & health problems far worse than @SenSanders,” wrote RoseAnn DeMoro, former head of National Nurses United, in a post on Twitter. “That’s why we have VP’s, etc. A stent isn’t a death sentence. In fact, it can improve one’s health.”
Sanders spokeperson David Sirota wrote that stent insertions are a “routine procedure” and added that “we are encouraging media outlets that are reporting on stents to note that stents are a perfect example of why the United States needs to join the rest of the world and pass Bernie’s Medicare for All legislation.”
New Jersey’s Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley, who was 56 during the 2000 presidential primary campaign, had to pause his campaign after being hospitalized for the first of five episodes of atrial fibrillation over a span of several weeks but he is still alive today.
Despite his condition — also known as an irregular heartbeat — the former pro-basketball player continued to campaign until then-Vice President Al Gore won enough delegates to become the Democratic presidential nominee.
In 1996, Republican Sen. Bob Dole faced questions about his fitness after the then-73-year-old fell off a short stage but he continued to campaign with vigor.
“This should put to rest the age question once and for all,” Dole’s press secretary, Nelson Warfield, told reporters. “If Bob Dole can take a tumble like that and hop right back up on his feet and deliver a great speech, he’s strong enough to be president and go a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson too.”
Dole lost the 1996 election to President Bill Clinton but he also remains alive today.
Sanders, who has had an absolutely relentless campaign schedule this summer, was never apparently tired even when his younger aides and reporters following his campaign were clearly exhausted from the experience.
The health scare stunned the political world and eclipsed campaign’s good financial news Wednesday, which concerned the staggering amount of money Sanders raised from his devoted army of small-dollar online contributors.
Sanders raked in $25.3 million over the third quarter, putting his fundraising at $75 million, a figure far ahead of other Democrats seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
Sanders posted the largest quarterly fundraising total for any Democratic presidential contender this year.
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