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04 October 2023

Roosevelt may have had tumour


By Elizabeth Lopatto

Franklin Delano Roosevelt died of a stroke on April 12, 1945, shortly before the end of World War Two. A new book, FDR's Deadly Secret, makes a persuasive case that Roosevelt's stroke was caused by a brain tumour that had metastasised from melanoma over his left eyebrow, which he and his doctors worked hard to cover up.

The case is admittedly circumstantial: Roosevelt's medical file vanished, probably destroyed by his attending physician, Ross McIntire, according to the authors. They rely, instead, on a cousin's diary, letters to and from Roosevelt, photographs of the president and the accounts of physicians who were asked to consult on his medical conditions. The documentation the authors do cite is thorough enough to be compelling.

Steven Lomazow, a professor of neurology at the Mt Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan, co-wrote the book with Eric Fettmann, an editor at the New York Post. The authors conclude that Roosevelt died of bleeding from a brain tumour, a metastasis of melanoma. Such tumours often haemorrhage, and may have caused Roosevelt's fatal brain bleed.

Roosevelt first began to lie about his health following an attack of polio that left him paralysed in 1921. Fearing that his disability would end his political career, he hid his medical problems. During his first presidential campaign, in 1931, he arranged a publicity stunt with three doctors who declared him physically fit for office.

He already had high blood pressure, which would get worse over the years as his heart began to fail. But his biggest problem, according to Lomazow and Fettmann, was the blob over his eye, which began to grow and then fade. The fading, the authors say, was probably due to a partial removal of the growth, to keep from arousing suspicion.

The authors suggest that Roosevelt was having seizures and difficulty seeing the left margin of his written speeches – indicating an advanced brain tumour – by the time he attended the Yalta Conference with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin in February, 1945.

There's no way of knowing if Roosevelt could have prevented the Cold War if he had been at his fullest faculties; Stalin was a mass murderer with whom there may have been no possibility of negotiation.

If you find yourself wondering, "So what?" Well, that's the book's problem. There's no punch line. The authors make no attempt to address the ethical conundrum created by a patient's right to privacy and the need of the American people to know if they are electing a dying man. There is a brief chapter on presidential succession, and that's it.

Oddly, the role of the press isn't addressed, either. The paralysed president had to be carried to and from cars. There are no pictures of this. Not only did the pool photographers refrain from photographing the president in moments of weakness, but should a rogue attempt a shot, other photographers would block the camera or knock it to the ground.

- Out now from Dh115


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