A cardiologist who examined Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman following his stroke last month said on Friday the Democratic Senate candidate suffered from a type of cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that prevents the heart from pumping blood. to the rest of the body. He said the pacemaker-defibrillator received by Fetterman — along with diet, medication and exercise — should allow him to continue his campaign.
The campaign revealed the 52-year-old’s new medical condition in a press release, which also acknowledged that Fetterman had ignored his doctor’s advice for five years. They refused a request to make his doctor available for an interview.
“The prognosis I can give for John’s heart is this: if he takes his meds, eats a healthy diet and exercises, he’ll be fine,” said Ramesh Chandra of Alliance Cardiology. in a letter provided to the media. “If he does what I told him…he should be able to campaign and serve in the US Senate with no problem.”
Fetterman’s stroke on May 13, four days before the primary he won handily, knocked him out of the campaign trail and largely out of public view ever since. While recovering at his home in Braddock, the GOP Senate race has been stalled by a recount between famed cardiothoracic surgeon Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund executive David McCormick.
The Allegheny County cardiologist who examined Fetterman Thursday said the candidate ignored his advice in 2017, when Fetterman had swollen feet and went to see him. Chandra then diagnosed her with atrial fibrillation (A-fib), a type of irregular heartbeat, and was prescribed medication, along with improved diet and exercise. Fetterman’s heart’s pumping ability had also diminished, the doctor said. He asked Fetterman to follow up in a few months.
“Instead, I only saw him again yesterday,” Chandra wrote. “John didn’t go to any doctors for 5 years and didn’t keep taking his meds.”
Fetterman, 52, in a statement accompanying Chandra’s letter released by his campaign on Friday, said he was “not proud” of ignoring medical advice but wanted to be a cautionary tale for others.
“Like my doctor said, I should have taken my health more seriously,” Fetterman said. “The stroke I suffered on May 13 did not come out of nowhere. Like so many others, and so many men in particular, I avoided going to the doctor, even though I knew I was not feeling well. As a result, I nearly died. I want to encourage others not to make the same mistake.
The letter is the first information from someone who has examined Fetterman since his stroke. The campaign declined to make Fetterman or the doctors who treated him at Lancaster General available for interviews.
READ MORE: Fetterman topped Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary. Here’s how he won.
The letter and statement were released due to concern from Democrats had mounted over their candidate’s health in the critical race, and as cardiologists not involved in Fetterman’s care questioned his campaign’s explanation of his medical treatment.
Fetterman’s campaign and his wife, Gisele, had said he suffered from A-fib, leading to his stroke on May 13. This type of cardiac arrhythmia can indeed cause a stroke. But when Fetterman got the pacemaker-defibrillator combination four days later, they said the device was implanted to treat A-fib.
That’s not what defibrillators are for, leading outside cardiologists to infer that Fetterman suffered from additional heart disease that the campaign did not disclose.
In Chandra’s letter, the cardiologist names this second condition: cardiomyopathy.
Among the different types of cardiomyopathy, there is one caused by Fetterman’s original condition, A-fib. When this irregular heartbeat persists too long in the left atrium (at the top of the heart), the muscular ventricles at the bottom of the heart have to work harder, eventually weakening. But Chandra didn’t specify how Fetterman’s cardiomyopathy happened, or give details about the severity of the condition.
READ MORE: Fetterman received a defibrillator after his stroke. But doctors say the campaign story “doesn’t make sense”.
Chandra also suggested that he may have been the one who explained to Fetterman the connection between cardiomyopathy and the use of a defibrillator.
“Yesterday I spoke to John about how, while [A-fib] was the cause of his stroke, he also has a condition called cardiomyopathy, which is why doctors at Lancaster chose to implant the device,” Chandra said.
Chandra said the pacemaker-defibrillator worked well, based on her examination. The campaign said doctors in Lancaster echoed the same after a review this week.
An implantable defibrillator, a device roughly the size of a tape measure, is placed in the chest of a person deemed to be at risk of sudden cardiac arrest. This does not mean that the heart has stopped beating, but that it has stopped pumping – beating or even shaking with a dangerously rapid and chaotic rhythm. The person faints quickly and, unless treated within minutes, risks severe disability or death.
A defibrillator detects cardiac arrest within seconds, then delivers a shock that “restarts” the heart to a normal rhythm. In many patients, the devices never need to be activated, instead they sit quietly in the chest. In those who do, the defibrillator restores a normal rhythm more than 99% of the time.
In his statement, Fetterman said he regretted not taking prescribed blood thinners, which Chandra says would have prevented the stroke (a blood clot in the brain). He lost 150 pounds in 2018 to reduce stress on his heart at the time, he said.
“I thought losing weight and exercising would be enough. Of course it wasn’t,” he said. “I didn’t do what the doctor told me. But I won’t make that mistake again.”
READ MORE: Many men don’t take good care of themselves. It’s a problem as old as medicine.
Fetterman said doctors told him to continue resting, eating healthy and exercising. He did not provide a timetable for his return to the campaign trail.
“It’s frustrating – especially since it’s my fault – but be patient, I need a little more time. I’m not 100% back yet, but I’m getting closer every day,” he said. “This race is so important to Pennsylvania and to the country. I’m going to be ready for it, and I can’t wait to get back on track.
The new details about Fetterman’s heart health made sense to St. Louis-based cardiologist Anthony Pearson, who had previously writes about the case in his blog, The Skeptical Cardiologist. He said he often sees overweight men in Fetterman’s age group who don’t know they have A-fib.
“They don’t seem to know when they’re in atrial fibrillation,” Pearson said in an interview Friday. “They only come to the doctor because they can’t breathe, or in his case it looks like it’s edema [swelling]. Even when you tell them their heart is beating at 140 beats per minute, it surprises them.