President Kennedy had a lifelong history of back pain and other illness
He wore a back brace in Dallas, against the advice of his doctor
Every November, America remembers the end of Camelot: a shining time of promise led by John F. Kennedy, our nation’s youngest elected president, brought to an abrupt and bloody end by Lee Harvey Oswald’s second shot, a bullet to the brain.
While conspiracy theorists debate who pulled that trigger, there’s another culprit that often goes unmentioned: Kennedy’s lifelong struggle with back pain.
It was his habit of wearing a tightly laced back brace that may have kept him from recoiling to the floor of his car after the assassin’s first bullet to the neck, setting him up for the kill shot.
“The brace was a firmly bound corset, around his hips and lower back and higher up,” said Dr. Thomas Pait, a spinal neurosurgeon who co-authored a paper about Kennedy’s failed back surgeries. “He tightly laced it and put a wide Ace bandage around in a figure eight around his trunk. If you think about it, if you have that brace all the way up your chest, above your nipples, and real tight, are you going to be able to bend forward?”
A portrait of pain
The Kennedy clan closely guarded the true extent of John Kennedy’s medical problems well past his death.
Though details escaped over the years – it’s hard to hide news photos of him walking on crutches before and after one of his numerous back surgeries – it wasn’t until 2002, when historian Robert Dallek was allowed access to a collection of documents spanning 1955 and 1963, that specifics began to emerge.
Pait and his co-author, neurosurgeon Dr. Justin Dowdy, pored over Dallek’s subsequent book, numerous other biographies and scores of documents and X-rays at the JFK Library in Boston to prepare their paper, published in September.
“I was taken aback by the depth of Kennedy’s pain,” Dowdy said. “How long he dealt with pain despite his short life, how it affected his life and how they were able to conceal most of that from the public and certainly from his political adversaries.”
Pait agreed: “He was one of our youn