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Hahnemann Hospital Doctors Hold News Conference on the Condition of Former President Ford

Aired August 3, 2000 - 1:15 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We are expecting a news conference to begin any moment now, Here it is at Hahnemann Hospital on the condition of former President Ford.

CALVIN MCDOWELL, FORD FAMILY SPOKESMAN: I do have some comments on behalf of the family that we will make after we have concluded the medical briefing. So I am going to turn it over to Doctor Clasco (ph), and then he will introduce the other doctors, and give you an update on the president's medical condition. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: Again, the two physicians that will be speaking with you are Doctor Robert Schwartzman, who is our chair of neurology, and Dr. Carole Thomas, who is our head of neuro-intensive care.

Doctor Schwartzman and Doctor Thomas.

DR. ROBERT SCHWARTZMAN, HAHNEMANN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: I am very pleased to report that the president is doing much better. He's walking, his balance is better. His left hand returned to normal. He's still having some problems with the condition that brought him to the emergency room earlier with his tongue, and a little bit of slurred speech. But he is in good spirits and doing much better.

DR. CAROLE THOMAS, HAHNEMANN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL; As far as what we are going to be doing in the future, President Ford is currently on a blood thinner called Heparin, and is being changed to one called Cumatin (ph), which is the oral form, the pill form. That is to prevent any further strokes or any further problems. That needs to be adjusted for several days with blood levels. So he will need to be in the hospital for a few more days.

But we're very pleased with his progress and expect him to make a full recovery.

QUESTION: Doctors, the impression is Hahnemann screwed up, and missed an easy diagnosis on the former president; is that true?

SCHWARTZMAN: I can answer that. No, I don't think that's true. There's several issue involved. The president was tired and he really didn't wish any further studies when he came in the first night.

QUESTION: Are you saying that you're ER doctors said to have more studies and he signed out against medical advice?

SCHWARTZMAN: No, I am not saying he signed out against medical advice. There are several issues that I can't really divulge to you because it would be doctor/patient privacy issues, and I think that's all I can really say about that.

QUESTION: Did they miss the diagnosis, or did they ask him to take the test, and he didn't want to?

SCHWARTZMAN: I can't really answer that any further.

QUESTION: Has the doctor ever treated the president...

MCDOWELL: Excuse me a second. I want to answer that question for a minute. On behalf of the family, just to kind of put this to bed. I happened to be there. Mrs. Ford was there, along with the president. And the activities and the events of that evening were totally controlled by the president. And there was some things that we were concerned about that the president quite frankly had discussed with the doctors. We're not going to get into that. But it was the president's decision to go back to the hotel. He was encouraged to have a CAT-Scan that evening. He chose not to have it. And so I just want to put that to bed once and for all. Thank you.

QUESTION: Why did he choose not to have a CAT-Scan?

MCDOWELL: You will have to ask the president.

QUESTION: My question was, did any of the doctors ever treated a president before? and, if not, is it possible they were intimated by his stature and let him go. where if it were another 87-year-old person, they may not have?

THOMAS: We really can't comment on that because we were not there.

QUESTION: Will there be an internal hospital review of the handling of this case by the ER staff in the early hours of the morning?

THOMAS: There's already been a review, and there will be an ongoing evaluation of the care.

QUESTION: What were the results of that review?

THOMAS: It's ongoing.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about the reputation of the hospital considering the national nature of this, a former president, and the story that he was misdiagnosed? are you concerned about the hospital's reputation?

SCHWARTZMAN: No, we're not concerned about the hospital's reputation. I was called to see the president on Wednesday morning. Correct diagnosis was made. It was substantiated. The patient is being treated. The patient is recovering. We know exactly what happened to the patient. And we think he's going to make a full recovery.

QUESTION: Do you know any better now how many strokes he may have had?

THOMAS: He had some changes prior to coming in that possibly were symptoms of a stroke or a TIA, a mini stroke. On his MRI, we didn't see any evidence of any -- of any stroke. On his exam, his physical examination yesterday morning, there was evidence that he had suffered a stroke. So it's hard to say exactly whether some of the events he had prior to that were mini strokes, but we have only evidence clinically of one stroke.

QUESTION: Follow up on one question with you. He still has some slurred speech and is recovering on motor skills, will that be permanent, the slurred speech?

THOMAS: I expect that to recover. Most strokes do recover. It takes between six weeks and three months. Because his stroke was fairly minor to begin with, I expect him to continue to recover to a point where he's 100 percent back to where he was.

QUESTION: Has the former president agreed to a CAT-Scan, or you had a diagnosis of stroke when he was originally here, would your treatment have been different? and would his outcome have been any different?

SCHWARTZMAN: No. The treatment would have been exactly the same. His outcome is excellent. Nothing would have changed. There would have been no invasive studies done. As was discussed yesterday, there would have been no thrombolitic (ph) therapy done. We have a good idea of exactly what happened to him. So It would have made no difference whatever, and basically he's doing very well.

QUESTION: ... how he spend the time between your last briefing and this one?


QUESTION: Sleeping, eating all those kinds of things?

SCHWARTZMAN: Sure. Basically after, we briefed you yesterday at 5:00, he spent a restful night. We did not let him have visitors other than his wife so that he could get some rest. He ate dinner last night. He had some sea bass. Was able to eat that fine. So we know that his swallowing evaluation was good and he was able to swallow that fine.

He had a good night's sleep and woke up this morning feeling rested, was actually able to walk in the hallways, and walked about 30-40 feet down the hallway, you know, with assistance to make sure that he was steady. But he was definitely much steadier than he was yesterday, and is really looking well. And is feeling, he states, is feeling much better.

QUESTION: With regard to visitors, you gave the OK for Governor Bush to come in? THOMAS: Yes.

SCHWARTZMAN: Governor bush is...

QUESTION: How was that?

SCHWARTZMAN: Fine. They had a good chat. His family is here. All members of his family, they have been chatting all morning. And Mrs. Ford is at the bedside, and he's very comfortable.

QUESTION: Is Secretary Cheney coming to visit?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the questions are these medically related questions.

QUESTION: When was -- when will the president be released?

THOMAS: It will take several days for him to get stable on his medication. I'm expecting sometime either at the end of the weekend or early next week. But it is when he's stable.

QUESTION: Governor Bush just said that he had a discussion with the doctors. Could you characterize the conversation with Governor Bush?

SCHWARTZMAN: Yes. First we discussed the president and how well he was doing, and then several of us gave the president our personal views of the present state of American medicine.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate a little bit about what he said?

SCHWARTZMAN: I was very impressed that President Bush knew all the issues. He clearly has some doctor friends.

QUESTION: Governor Bush?

THOMAS: Right.

SCHWARTZMAN: Governor Bush. And I was very impressed he knew all of our issues. I think his doctor friends have been telling the governor the same thing, and he was very gracious, looked us straight in the eye, and gave us the answers.

QUESTION: Give a specific policy example that you brought to his attention today?

SCHWARTZMAN: Our frustration with aspects of managed care.

QUESTION: Would you expect him to go home or to a rehab center?

THOMAS: He will be able to go home. He won't -- would not require any in patient rehabilitation.

QUESTION: Are you saying that the president did not sign out against medical advice? he wasn't required to sign out AMA?

SCHWARTZMAN: I really -- I was not there. I saw the president first on Wednesday morning. I was not there Tuesday night.

QUESTION: Does the hospital have a statement on that?

MICHAEL HALTER, CEO, HAHNEMANN UNIV. HOSPITAL: Give me just a second. OK. My name is Mike Halter. I'm the CEO of the hospital, and I would like to try to see if I could bring a little clarity to what happened on Tuesday night, if I could.

First of all, he came in -- we've looked at the file because part of that was the care that was being done now. We had to look what happened at that time. There is no indication that anything was done on Tuesday night that was inappropriate. It was totally appropriate care.

As Calvin said earlier, there were some discussions between the medical staff and the president about how he would like to have his care taken care of. And we honored those wishes. We thought that that was the appropriate thing to do.

There is not an investigation going on. We do not believe that there's any misdiagnosis here. In effect, what happened is, the next morning, the president woke up, and he was experiencing symptoms that he did not show in the emergency room on Tuesday night, OK, different set of symptoms. They brought him back to the institution, at which point in time he was cared by Doctor Schwartzman and Doctor Thomas, and that's what brought us to this point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a lot of patients to take care of, including a very important one. I am going to ask to end the press conference.

QUESTION: Again...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, I think both Mr. McDowell and Mr. Halter have answered those questions appropriately.

QUESTION: You are not answering. Did he sign out against medical advice or not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, as Mr. McDowell said, you have to ask the president that. That is a confidentiality issue between any patient and their physicians. I am going to ask us to end this conference at this point. Because Doctor Thomas and Doctor Schwartzman have asked to go back to see patients. Thank you very much.

ALLEN: The word from Hahnemann University Hospital, former President Gerald Ford doing much better today. He is in fair condition. His balance is better. He is walking. He has still a little bit of slurred speech. But they're pleased with his progress.

Here again the Ford family spokesman.

MCDOWELL: I tried to intervene there for a moment. And I want to be very straightforward with you on this issue of the hospital. And I have spent a lot of time with the president and Mrs. Ford, and then this morning with family members. There is no one that has any concerns about anything, including the president and Mrs. Ford, about his treatment, other than the fact that he has been treated exceptionally well, good diagnosis, good treatments since he arrived here the first evening, the first minute. I was there.

So I think it's time that we put to bed this attack on the hospital about misdiagnosis and everything else. There are conditions and things preexisting, prior to the arrival here, that the president had been advised of by his own personal physician, and he felt bad. And we were just concerned about the sequence of events.

But the swollen tongue that he was having difficulty with that each of you noticed on Tuesday evening was unrelated to this visit, as far as we were concerned, relative to information that his physician had shared with him prior to his departure to Philadelphia.

So I would like to put that to bed. Again, the president was in total control of exactly what he was doing. Everyone was very cooperative. There was no intimidation by the president to the staff, in terms of we're dealing with former president here. And I think that's said enough. I mean, if you can't read between the lines on that, I apologize. I think it's time that we start being more concerned about the president's health and the progress that he's making than we are about the issues that were just irrelevant.

QUESTION: Did he sign out against medical advice?

MCDOWELL: Again...

ALLEN: The Ford family spokesman giving clarity to a subject that many reporters are asking about, regarding the care that Mr. Ford has received. The hospital says that it made no mistake, the president was in control. He is the one who chose to go back home to his hotel after first going to the hospital Tuesday evening.



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