by Heather Grace IPJ Staff Writer
While many people believe President John F. Kennedy struggled with chronic pain after World War II, the truth is much more complicated. JFK’s health was far worse than anyone knew, as he struggled throughout his life with serious invisible illness.
While an accident in 1944 worsened his condition, JFK’s struggles with pain actually began in childhood. The former president’s medical records were only released publicly a decade ago. And in 2009, they were analyzed by Dr. Lee Mandel. The conclusions presented a lifelong battle with a very serious illness. His autoimmune disease, Schmidt’s Syndrome, could’ve even prevented JFK from serving in office, had he not received effective treatment early on.
Schmidt’s Syndrome is complex illness, that encompasses Addison’s Disease (adrenal insufficiency caused by abnormal cortisol levels), thyroid disease, diabetes and/or failure of sex hormones. People with Schmidt’s have low immunity to communicable illnesses–they’re always getting catching colds and flus. In JFK’s era, this could be life-threatening.
JFK was sicker than most children, suffering many illnesses and seemingly unrelated symptoms from birth onward. These include near constant infections in infancy, scarlet fever, ongoing diarrhea/nausea, joint pain and fatigue. He was in and out of the hospital numerous times.
Throughout his military career, JFK suffered in silence. He wore a back brace to stabilize his degenerating spine and hid how sick he was. Though he wrote letters home to tell his family how he was really doing, Kennedy refused to go to the sick bay for help. Later in life, severe back pain caused President Kennedy to use crutches for years of his life, even while he was a Senator.
JFK had multiple surgeries on his back. The second operation was life-threatening, because his adrenal fatigue meant recovery would be much more difficult. Family members did not think it was safe to proceed. JFK’s resolve to be well and not live a lifetime in agony is what convinced him to go through with it.
In time, despite excellent care, the seriousness of his condition caused JFK to develop Central Pain Syndrome. This meant intense constant pain and severe nerve damage. Despite his charm and youth, on the inside President Kennedy had more health problems than many of his elder counterparts. Only when he met a physician who was able to manage his intractable pain was Kennedy able to truly thrive.
Before he was president, Kennedy’s care was revolutionized by specialist Dr. Jane Travell. Because her expert care managed his pain and autoimmune symptoms so effectively, JFK went on to lead the country without missing a single day due to illness. His pain management regimen included vitamins and minerals as well as prescriptions for pain, muscle relaxers and sleep.
To this day, similar regimens are used for intractable pain patients, so they can reclaim some semblance of a normal life. Though the pain and nerve symptoms never completely resolve for patients with intractable pain and/or Central Pain Syndrome, pain management means all the difference!
My story is very similar to JFK’s and while I don’t yet have a diagnosis for my autoimmune condition, I’m extremely fortunate to have effective pain care. If it was good enough for one of our most beloved presidents, surely it is appropriate for people living with severe constant pain today. Thanks JFK, for being revolutionary in more ways than the world knew in your day!
See the full story in Practical Pain Management, written by Forest Tennant, M.D.: http://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/pain/myofascial/autoimmune/john-f-kennedys-pain-story-autoimmune-disease-centralized-pain.
Heather Grace is an Intractable Pain Sufferer, Writer & Advocate. Her intractable pain went from chronic to constant due to medical neglect of a serious yet treatable spinal injury. She now lives with Central Pain Syndrome and underlying illnesses. She Co-Manages Intractable Pain Patients United, has been Technical Director/Guest Speaker at For Grace’s Annual Women in Pain Conference. She is also a Pain Ambassador for the U.S. Pain Foundation.
© 2012 Intractable Pain Journal & Heather Grace. All rights reserved.