Former President Ford Suffers Stroke

Wednesday, August 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Former President Gerald Ford suffered two small strokes at the Republican convention that were mistaken for a sinus infection, and was hospitalized Wednesday with slurred speech, dizziness and arm weakness.

Doctors said the 87-year-old Ford appeared to suffer no brain damage or permanent disability and chances for a full recovery were good. The sudden turn dampened spirits at an otherwise upbeat GOP celebration.

``His thinking is perfect,'' said Dr. Robert Schwartzman, chief of neurology at Hahnemann University Hospital, where the former president walked in about 9 a.m. under his own power, briefcase in hand.

``He'll have to be on medication but I think he'll do very well,'' the doctor said.

Ford, America's 38th president, had gone to the hospital hours earlier, complaining of feeling off balance during a GOP salute to him during the convention Tuesday night. He was sent home after about a half hour with antibiotics and a diagnosis of a sinus infection.

On his second trip, an imaging scan confirmed the strokes affecting the back of the brain, which controls balance. He was in stable condition and alert.

Betty Ford, his wife of 52 years, was by his side. She was ``very upset but fine,'' Schwartzman said. Later in the day, Ford visited with a family friend.

The sudden turn of events stunned Republicans, who one night earlier saluted Ford for healing the wounds of Vietnam and Watergate during a turbulent but short two-year stay in the White House. He waved approvingly to the crowd.

George W. Bush spoke to Mrs. Ford by telephone. ``America loves Gerald and Betty Ford for their integrity, wisdom and compassion,'' he said in a statement. Hospital officials said the Republican presidential candidate asked to visit but was told to wait a day.

At a $10 million fund-raiser, Republicans offered a moment of silence for the former president.

President Clinton also spoke with Mrs. Ford by telephone. White House spokesman Elliot Diringer said she told the president that her husband was doing fine and in good spirits.

Vice President Al Gore said in a statement that he joins with all Americans ``in holding President Ford and his family in our thoughts and prayers.''

Delegates milling around the convention hall said the news dampened the mood. ``You have the emotion of the moment — the convention — and the sobering reality that life is a fragile gift,'' said Bill Federer, an alternate from Missouri and congressional candidate running against House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt.

Added Kathy Pellecchio, a Pennsylvania Republican: ``We're devastated that he's sick, but we don't think he'd want it that way. He would still want it to be an upbeat convention.''

Always an optimist, Ford was talking to his staff Wednesday afternoon about going to his summer home in California. ``He is very alert and ready to go home,'' aide Calvin McDowell said.

Doctors said they suspected Ford suffered a stroke two days ago and had another smaller one Tuesday night.

Schwartzman said the stroke was not detected earlier because ``it looks like an ear infection.''

Asked whether the former president had suffered brain damage, the doctor said, ``No, I don't think so.'' He said the effect of the stroke was being felt ``mainly in his balance center.''

``I think this will all clear, mainly in his balance center, in the back of his brain,'' Schwartzman said. ``That should all recover.''

Ford told CNN in an interview broadcast Tuesday night, ``I couldn't be healthier.''

During a C-SPAN interview, he appeared confused. He answered a question about racial diversity by talking about Michigan's diverse economy and a question about Iran by talking about onions.

Ford was appointed vice president by Richard Nixon, and sworn in as president in August 1974 after Nixon's resignation in the midst of the Watergate scandal. ``Our long national nightmare is over,'' he declared.

But Ford revived the debate a month later by pardoning Nixon for all crimes he may have committed as president. That single act, it was widely believed, led to Ford's defeat in the 1976 presidential race against Jimmy Carter.

In a long congressional career in which he rose to be House Republican leader, Ford lit few fires — a man more comfortable carrying out the programs of others than in initiating things on his own.

Ford has been an active golfer in his retirement.

Strokes strike about 600,000 Americans each year and are the nation's third-leading cause of death, killing 160,000 victims annually. On average, someone in the United States suffers a stroke every 53 seconds.

It occurs when brain tissue dies because of lack of proper blood flow and oxygen.

The most common type is caused by a blood clot in the brain. Rapid treatment of this type of stroke with clot-busting medication can reverse a stroke's injury to brain cells, allowing patients to dramatically improve.

Strokes also can be caused when a blood vessel abruptly bursts in the brain, destroying nearby brain cells.