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THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION

Ford in Hospital for Stroke

Illness: Former president is alert, aide says, after tests reveal condition. Full recovery is expected, but speech, swallowing and balance are affected.

August 03, 2000|GERALDINE BAUM and FAYE FIORE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PHILADELPHIA — Former President Ford, whose reassuring blandness and personal integrity played a key role in salvaging the Republican Party from one of the 20th century's biggest American political disgraces, sent a shock wave Wednesday through a happy and uneventful GOP gathering after he suffered one and possibly two small strokes centered in his brain stem.

The former president, who at 87 had recently been feeling poorly, was recovering Wednesday in a local hospital and was "alert and ready to go home," according to an aide.

While doctors described his condition as "serious but improving," he remained in the neurological intensive care unit and was expected to be hospitalized at least five days while taking anticoagulant medications.

"I think the president will totally recover, even though now he has problems with his speech and swallowing and balance," said Dr. Robert Schwartzmann, chairman of neurology at Hahnemann University Hospital.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 10, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Neurology chief--In articles Aug. 3 and 4 about the hospitalization of former President Gerald R. Ford, The Times misspelled the name of the chairman of neurology at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia. He is Dr. Robert J. Schwartzman.

Doctors said his thinking was clear, relaying a "good ol' boy" conversation they had with Ford, a former college football player, about leather helmets.

Meantime, concerned GOP leaders and delegates continued convention festivities. Tuesday night's program included a video tribute to the humble congressman from Michigan who was chosen by Richard Nixon to replace a disgraced vice president and then assumed the presidency after Nixon's resignation. Ford later pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed during his attempts to cover up his role in the Watergate scandal.

Ford was first taken to the hospital by Secret Service agents about 1 a.m. Wednesday. His wife of 52 years, Betty, was at his side. The 38th U.S. president told doctors that he had pain in his face and tongue, and the physicians thought he might have had a sinus infection, they said at a hospital news conference Wednesday.

Although Ford told the doctors he was being treated for the symptoms by his personal physician, he requested pain medication for the night to help him sleep. He left the hospital after a half-hour, and doctors said that the decision to release him was "appropriate."

"All he sought was pain relief," Dr. Wayne Satz, the hospital's chief of emergency medicine, said at the news conference.

But about 9 a.m., Ford returned to the hospital, suffering from balance problems, pain in his face and mild slurred speech.

Schwartzmann said that when he examined the president during his second visit, it became clear that Ford had probably suffered one small stroke a couple of days ago and had certainly suffered another that morning. He was put in intensive care and given medication. An MRI showed that the president had no bleeding in his brain but does suffer from a condition of diffused vascular problems commonly associated with aging.

During several television interviews at the convention hall Tuesday night, Ford clearly wasn't himself. He appeared alternately cogent and confused. For example, when a C-SPAN caller asked Ford about relations with Iran, he smiled and proclaimed himself "a great onion-eater" and described what he'd had for dinner that night. But when the question was rephrased, he immediately turned to the foreign policy matter.

Lee Simmons, Ford's personal assistant for more than 25 years, said that Ford, now retired and living in Palm Desert and Beaver Creek, Colo., usually swims every day and has kept his weight under control but that he has not been feeling well lately. Simmons said he immediately knew something was wrong Tuesday night when he saw Ford appear on CNN's "Larry King Live."

"His face wasn't what it normally is and his speech was slurred," Simmons said.

Chuck Yob, a county chairman for Ford's unsuccessful 1976 presidential campaign who now is running for a Michigan congressional seat, had asked Ford to campaign for him.

"He said he wasn't feeling real red hot and that he was getting old," Yob said. Still, he had offered to campaign for candidates nationally after the convention, Yob and others said.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who arrived here Wednesday to accept the GOP nomination, was among those who asked to visit Ford at the hospital. But doctors declined, saying Ford needed to rest.

Bush and President Clinton each spoke to Betty Ford by telephone, conveying concern and good wishes.

Former President Bush, who sat next to Ford on Tuesday night in the convention hall, said the tribute reminded conventioneers "of his decency and all that he did at a crucial time in our history."

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Times staff writers T. Christian Miller and Maria L. La Ganga contributed to this story.

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* STROKE RECOVERY

New therapies help stroke victims regain arm function. B2

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