Monday, October 26

Donald Trump has tested positive for COVID-19. Here are 9 other US presidents who battled illness while in office — and what happened after they recovered or died.

presidents who were sick ill in office trump covid

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George Washington battled pneumonia and influenza while in office, which impacted his eyesight and hearing.

The nation’s first president had survived a number of illnesses prior to taking the oath — including malaria, smallpox, and tuberculosis.

Less than two months after his inauguration, Washington had a tumor on his thigh removed, and the recovery process required him to lie on his side for six weeks, according to Mount Vernon archives.

Washington fell ill in 1790 due to pneumonia and influenza, which took a toll on his eyesight and hearing, according to Mount Vernon.

At age 69, Washington died of a throat infection in 1799, which was after he had left office.

William Henry Harrison fell ill and died 34 days into his term — making him the shortest-serving president.

President William Henry Harrison contracted what is thought to be pneumonia on the day of his inauguration, and he died 34 days into office on April 4, 1841, due to the illness.

He became the first US president to die while in office — and served the shortest term in history, at that. Vice President John Tyler became president following Harrison, though there was no rule that dictated this at the time.

The 25th Amendment, which states that the vice president will become president if the president is removed from office due to resignation or death, was passed by Congress as an Amendment in 1965, and ratified in 1967, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Zachary Taylor died during his second year in office after battling an illness thought to be cholera.

President Zachary Taylor died on July 9, 1850, during his 16th month in office, according to the History Channel.

He suffered a brief illness that historians dispute, but is believed to be cholera, as outbreaks of the fatal disease — caused by bacteria — were common in that time.

Vice President Millard Fillmore was sworn in as president the next day.

Woodrow Wilson contracted the 1918 influenza during the pandemic, and his doctor and wife tried to hide it from the public.

Trump isn’t the first president to fall ill during a pandemic.

President Woodrow Wilson was in office amid the 1918 influenza pandemic, which the CDC considers the most severe pandemic in recent history and led to an estimated 20 million deaths worldwide.

The Wilson administration reportedly tried to downplay the threat of the virus, which was named “the Spanish flu,” and the president apparently never addressed the nation about the pandemic.

“Wilson never made a public statement about the pandemic. Never,” John M. Barry, author of “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” told CNN.

Barry also said that the flu impacted Wilson’s stamina and his concentration, and affected “his mind in other, deeper ways,” according to USA Today. 

In April 1919, Wilson contracted the virus while in Paris for the Big Four peace talks, and his doctor lied when speaking to the press, telling the public that Wilson had caught a cold from walking in the rain in the French city, according to the History Channel.

Wilson’s wife, Edith, also tried to conceal her husband’s illness, telling people that he was overworked, Thomas Schwartz, a professor of history at Vanderbilt University, told NBC News.

Wilson suffered a stroke in 1919, six months after contracting the flu, which left him partially paralyzed and blind, according to the History Channel. He died in 1924, three years after leaving office. 

Warren G. Harding died while on a cross-country tour due to apparent heart failure.

Warren G. Harding’s presidential term started in 1921 and ended in 1923 when he died, suddenly, at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, one of the cities on his cross-country tour, according to the History Channel.

Harding’s death was attributed to congestive heart failure. Some experts believe he may have suffered multiple undiagnosed heart attacks months prior to his death, the History Channel says.

That day, Vice President Calvin Coolidge became president and went on to serve one full term.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt battled polio, but he famously concealed the visible markers of his condition throughout his presidency.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd US president, was diagnosed with polio — infantile paralysis — in 1921 when he was 39. He was paralyzed from the waist down.

Upon becoming president in 1933, Roosevelt found ways to hide his disability from the public. In private, he used a wheelchair he designed himself using a dining chair and bicycle-like wheels, according to the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

In public, when arriving for a speaking engagement, Roosevelt developed a walking method — he used a cane and the arm of an adviser or his son, and he swayed his legs and hips forward to give the illusion of the movement, as described by the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

He also requested to not be photographed walking, and the Secret Service was instructed to intervene if anyone snapped a picture of Roosevelt appearing “disabled or weak.”

After four terms in office, on April 12, 1945, Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 63 while at a retreat in Georgia. That day, Harry Truman, who was Vice President under Roosevelt, was sworn in as president.

Dwight D. Eisenhower recovered from a heart attack and stroke while in office.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower “suffered several serious illnesses” during his first term, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In 1955, Eisenhower had a heart attack, which the White House told the public was “a digestive upset,” according to National Geographic.

While Eisenhower was discouraged by a cardiologist against running for re-election in 1956, the president continued his campaign, and he later had an emergency surgery that led to his diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease. 

In 1957, Eisenhower suffered a stroke but completed his presidential term. As Eisenhower’s presidency predated the 25th Amendment, he formed an agreement in 1958 with Vice President Richard Nixon, which stated that Nixon would serve as Acting President if Eisenhower became unable to complete the duties.

During his presidency, John F. Kennedy suffered from chronic back pain and Addison’s disease.

While in office, President John F. Kennedy quietly suffered from health complications. 

Prior to becoming president, Kennedy had a series of unsuccessful back surgeries in the 1940s and ’50s, which were supposed to alleviate the chronic back pain, according to Dr. Howard Markel for PBS NewsHour.

During much of his adult life, Kennedy often experienced so much back discomfort that he couldn’t bend over to tie his own shoes, wrote Markel.

Kennedy also wore a back brace during his presidency, and some physicians cite this as a contributing factor to his death by assassination.

In addition to the back pain he experienced, Kennedy suffered from Addison’s disease, which can cause patients to experience low blood pressure, diarrhea, vomiting, and fatigue, and can be fatal if left untreated, according to Markel.

Ronald Reagan was treated for colon cancer and resumed presidential duties 8 hours after the surgery.

President Ronald Reagan recovered from two major health-related occurrences during his presidency.

In March 1981, Reagan, who was 70 at the time, was shot in the chest. The bullet just missed his heart, reported Politico. Reagan “walked unassisted into the emergency room” and made a full recovery, signing a bill while sitting in his hospital bed, according to Politico.

In July 1985, Reagan underwent surgery to have cancerous tumors removed. During his procedure, he transferred presidential power to Vice President George H.W. Bush for about eight hours, according to the New York Times.