John Kennedy: Health Cover-Up

Addison disease
Kennedy's Addisonism was diagnosed in 1947 by a physician in London. Kennedy had probably been suffering (literally) from the disease for years, if not decades. After the diagnosis, he was given less than a year to live. He was so ill during the sea voyage home from England, in October 1947, that he was given the last rites 1a. Yet, during the 1960 presidential race, the JFK campaign flatly denied that JFK had Addison disease. The Kennedy campaign used a very narrow definition of Addision disease, namely, insufficiency of the adrenal glands caused by tuberculosis. This was deliberate, calculated, and grossly misleading. Bumgarner calls it "undoubtedly one of the most cleverly laid smoke screens ever put down around a politician" SEE BELOW 1b. Adrenal insufficiency, no matter how caused, is a serious matter. MORE

Dallek reports that "Doctors who treated Jack's Addison's or read closely about his condition have concluded that he had a secondary form of the disease, or a 'slow atrophy of of the adrenal glands,' rather than a rapid primary destruction" 2a. Dallek is hinting that Kennedy's Addisonism was due to chronic use of steroids, but he does not take a stand.

While a U.S. Senator, Kennedy underwent major surgery on his back even though the effects of Addison disease on the tolerance of surgery was largely unknown at the time. 3. In fact, JFK's case was published in the medical literature in 1955, although this was not publicly realized until 1967 4a. Post-operatively, he developed a urinary tract infection and had a transfusion reaction, characterized by "mild angioneurotic edema." He also had a repeat operation four months later 3.

Here is an incomplete tabulation of health-related statements made by Kennedy or his campaign:
  • [Two days after election of 1960] A reporter asked about JFK's health and the rumors surrounding it. Kennedy answered that he was in "excellent" health and dismissed as untrue the rumors of Addison disease. 2b
  • [Campaign of 1960] Based largely on information supplied by Robert Kennedy, a professional organ of the American Medical Association published an article that described JFK as being in "superb physical condition." Some adrenal insufficiency was mentioned, along with the assurance that it was neutralized by daily oral medication. The article, which was also summarized by the New York Times, further assured that Kennedy would have no difficulties withstanding the demands of his new office. 2b
  • [Two hours before being sworn in, January 20, 1961] When newsmen asked about Kennedy's health, two physicians announced he was in continuing "excellent" health. 2c
Cited Sources
  1. Bumgarner, John R. The Health of the Presidents: The 41 United States Presidents Through 1993 from a Physician's Point of View. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Company, 1994.
    a  pp.240-241  b  p.243

    Comment: Devotes one chapter to each President, through Clinton. Written for the layperson, well-referenced, with areas of speculation clearly identified, Dr. Zebra depends heavily on this book. Dr. Bumgarner survived the Bataan Death March and has written an unforgettable book casting a physician's eye on that experience.

  2. Dallek, Robert. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963. Boston: Little, Brown, 2003.
    a  pp.105  b  p.300  c  p.322
  3. Nicholas JA, Burstein CL, Umberger CJ, Wilson PD. Management of adrenocortical insufficiency during surgery. Archives of Surgery. 1955;71:737-742.

    Comment: JFK is case 3

  4. Cooper, Pauline. The Medical Detectives. New York: David McKay, 1973.
    a  p.209

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