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Breaking News

Former President Ford Suffers Small Stroke

Aired August 2, 2000 - 12:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: We have a developing story to tell you about. Former President Gerald Ford, 87, is in the hospital, having suffered a small stroke within the last few days. This is what a doctor treating him said just a few minutes ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: President Ford has had a small stroke. It is in the circulation at the base of the brain. He's doing well. A little trouble with his balance and presently is being studied for the cause of his stroke.

QUESTION: Any affects of the stroke?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: He is having a little bit of trouble with his balance at the moment.

QUESTION: Any weakness?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: A little bit of weakness in the left arm. His thinking is perfect, no problem with that.

QUESTION: How long do you expect him to be in the hospital?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: Probably in the hospital five or six days. His condition is very good. He's stable right now. He is undergoing testing.

QUESTION: Do you think he will remain here, doctor?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: He will be here probably for five days or so, yes.

QUESTION: Can he speak, doctor?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: Yes, can he.

QUESTION: What does he say?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: He's perfectly awake. His normal function, mentally that's not a problem. He is a little unbalanced, a little weakness in his left arm.

QUESTION: And his legs as well? UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: No, legs are normal.

QUESTION: How is Mrs. Ford?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: She's very upset, but fine.

QUESTION: What is his prognosis?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: He probably had a little stroke a day or so ago.

QUESTION: A little weak in his left arm, right?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: I don't think so.

QUESTION: What is his attitude, sir?

What was he complaining about this morning?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: He was again off balance, and difficulty with his speech.

QUESTION: Doctor, do you think he had the stroke in between the time he was here before and came back...

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: No, I think he probably had a stroke maybe two days ago, and had another little one.

QUESTION: Another one today?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: Probably, yes.

QUESTION: Why didn't you catch it earlier?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: Well, it looks like an inner-ear infection sometimes, and it is sometimes hard to tell the difference? and he may be a little worse now than he was before, so that's understandable.

QUESTION: What's his prognosis?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: Good.

QUESTION: You think he will be fine?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: I think he will do very well.

QUESTION: Will he survive this?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: Yes.

QUESTION: Will he have any disabilities?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: No, I think he'll do very well. I think he's going to have to be on medication, but he should do very well, should really recover.

QUESTION: Will he have any brain damage?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: Sorry?

QUESTION: Is there any brain damage?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: No, I don't think so. I think this will all clear. It's mainly in his balance center, mainly in the back of the brain.

QUESTION: So it hasn't affected his speech? He can speak properly?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: He understands everything. His words are a little bit slurred, but that should all recover, too.

QUESTION: What is his attitude about this? Is he very upset?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: No, he's very calm.

QUESTION: But Mrs. Ford is not?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: Mrs. Ford is very calm, too, but she's just upset like anybody.

QUESTION: What has she said to you?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: Just take care of him.

QUESTION: And are you going to?

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: We are.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: This is somebody else's experts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: The former president is being treated at Hahnemann University Medical Center here in Philadelphia.

CNN's Pat Neal is there and joins us now with the latest -- Pat.

PAT NEAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jeanne, as you have probably heard, the former president, Gerald Ford, had a small stroke at the base of his brain. Doctors believe it happened about a day or so ago.

They said he was reportedly having some trouble with his balance, and that that is all being studied right now. They said the good thing is his thinking is perfect. They expect him to be in the hospital about five or six days. But he is in good condition and he is stable. They say the prognosis for him is actually very good. And also, they added, that his wife Betty Ford is upset, obviously, but that she is doing quite well right now. I was just speaking with a close friend of the Fords for some 40 years, Ambassador Peter Secia (ph), who was the ambassador to Rome under President Bush. He told me that he spent much of the day with the former president yesterday, that he was with him in his suite. That actually Dick Cheney came by to visit him. As you may know, Dick Cheney was Gerald Ford's chief of staff at the very young age of just 34 years old. He came by to visit.

Last night, as you know, Gerald Ford came to this hospital about 1:00 in the morning. He came here complaining about his earache. He had left the Republican National Convention. He came here with that earache. He walked in. He was here until about 2:30 in the morning and which he left. Doctors game him some antibiotics.

Then, of course, he came back again this morning at about 9:00 this morning. And doctors treated him here. And he is still here.

I will tell you that their close friend, Ambassador Secia told me that the Fords were planning on leaving today from the Republican National Convention to go back to Colorado, leaving at 12:15, to go back to their home. In the summertime he told me they live in Beaver Creek, Colorado. And Ambassador Secia said he has known him for 40 years, that they are very close friends, that he was with the Fords when Mrs. Ford went for her breast cancer surgery. And that he described him as tough old coot, and say he is sure he is going to do well -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Pat, have doctored indicated whether they think the stress and excitement of the convention might have contributed to this.

NEAL: No, Jeanne, I have no answer to that because we just don't know.

MESERVE: And when will we hear more from the doctors.

NEAL: We don't actually know if we are going to hear more from the doctors. Actually, what we've been told by the hospital is that President Ford's spokespeople will now be our contacts on this. So we will let you know when we have more.

MESERVE: Pat Neal, thanks so much for joining out.

Now to Frank Sesno -- Frank,

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: Jeanne, thanks.

And we are joined by Wolf Blitzer now.

Wolf, you've been up on the podium, and you have been talking to a number of the people who have been coming up there, You interviewed Gerald Ford last night, and off camera you and he actually talked about his health somewhat. What did he tell you?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I have known President Ford now for many years, and he looks great. He looks robust. He looks strong. He is 87 years old. But when we started talking before the interview, I could tell that he was just slightly, ever so slightly, and our viewers will see this once they see a portion of that interview, he was slurring his words a little bit.

He was sharp as could editorially, on the substance of the questions. He obviously was up to speed on all the news of the day.

SESNO: He told you he wasn't feeling well?

BLITZER: He told me he wasn't feeling that great. He asked me to speak loudly, directly into his ear. I took that -- at the time because it was loud on the floor of the convention out here, and I sensed that -- that you know, maybe his hearing is not that great.

But while he was alert and excited, and clearly proud of the tribute that was paid to him, there was a slight, slight slur, and I want our viewers to take a look at some of that interview from last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Judy, we're down actually on the floor for this special guest, the former president of the United States, Gerald Ford, who will be honored this evening, together with former President Reagan, former President Bush. How do you feel about all of this?

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, both Betty and I are really overcome, Wolf, because we have such wonderful memories of our term in the White House, short as it was, but the opportunity to do things constructively at home and abroad, well, coming here tonight brings back all those great, great memories.

BLITZER: Tell us what you think about this Republican candidate?

FORD: Which -- well, I'm all for George W., I was from the very beginning, and of course Dick Cheney is an old-time friend of mine. He worked for me as chief of staff when I was president. He did a superb job in the Defense Department during the Persian Gulf War. He ran and served in the Congress. He's got an outstanding career in public service. I think he'll add tremendously to the Bush election campaign and will be a first-class vice president when they win.

BLITZER: Are you surprised by the criticism leveled against Dick Cheney since he got the phone call from the governor of Texas?

FORD: I'm very bothered by it, Wolf, because both Gore and Cheney served in the Congress together for six years. They had identical voting records on gun control. They had almost identical voting records on abortion, and you would think that Cheney was a bad guy and Gore was a good person, when their votes recording were very similar.

BLITZER: Today, President Clinton was very outspoken in criticizing the Republican presidential candidate. Is that appropriate during this convention? FORD: I never campaigned that way. When Jimmy Carter and I had a head-to-head contest for the presidency, we never got personal. I think it's unfortunate and wrong for President Clinton to get into this kind of a sharpshooting attack.

BLITZER: How did you like last night, the first night, General Powell and Mrs. Laura Bush?

FORD: They were a terrific team on the television. Of course, I think Colin Powell is going to be, I hope, a good secretary of defense, secretary of state. And Laura, what a fine first lady.

BLITZER: What about his remarks urging Republicans to be more inclusive towards African-Americans, other minorities, and to maybe rethink the position of many of these Republicans on affirmative action?

FORD: Well, I think the party, as a whole, should follow Colin Powell's advice. That's the theme I've been preaching all the time in my 28 1/2 years in the House, and 2 1/2 years in the White House. We have to be the party to cover all minorities -- black, ethnic and so forth. So I'm for the advice that Colin Powell gave and I hope Bush and Cheney will follow.

BLITZER: And so you're hopeful that this new face of the Republican Party will prevail?

FORD: I hope it will, and I'm going to do all I can to make sure it does prevail.

BLITZER: Mr. President, it's always good to speak to you. And I know this is an evening that they will be paying tribute to you. Congratulations and give our best to Mrs. Ford as well.

FORD: Thank you very much, Wolf. Thank you. Always nice to be with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So you can see, sharp as ever, Gerald Ford.

SESNO: Plenty of expression, lot of energy.

BLITZER: A little physical problem that obviously was there.

SESNO: And very much what we heard from the doctors. The doctors say mentally, absolutely all there but some slurring of the speech, which is very much what we heard last night.

We're joined on the telephone now by Michael Deaver, long-time Republican strategist.

Mr. Deaver, you were with former President Ford last night, when? and where? and did he bring up the subject of his health? did you notice anything? MICHAEL DEAVER, FRIEND OF GERALD FORD: No actually, I saw, him, Frank, at lunch. We were both at the Whitten House (ph) and at different tables. And we went over and spoke to he and Betty and they were terrific. I mean, I didn't see any indication of any problem. And then last night at the reception for Nancy and in the box, there was no indication to me that there was a problem at all. He didn't mention his health at any point. So I wouldn't have had a clue that there was a problem.

SESNO: There certainly seems to be, with the exception of that problem of the speech we heard in Wolf's interview, a very vigorous 87 years old.

DEAVER: Absolutely, I hope I'm doing that well at 87.

SESNO: Did you detect any problem with walking? we heard that he was little off balance today, anything like that?

DEAVER: No, no, I didn't, but, you know, we were standing and talking and I didn't see him walk, frankly. And then last night, of course, he received it. So there was no indication on anything that I saw that there was a problem at all.

SESNO: What was he discussing at lunch, and that kind of thing? what was occupying his attention?

DEAVER: I tell you...

SESNO: Well, I think we lost connection. There we go.

DEAVER: George Schultz and Charlotte Schultz came through and we all just sort of met at the same time, and old acquaintances who hadn't seen each other for several years or whatever. And it was just a greeting, a hello.

SESNO: All right, Michael Deaver, joining us on the phone, thanks very much, spending some time with former President Ford just yesterday -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: And now we're going to learn a little bit more about these small strokes, joining us now on the telephone is Dr. George Hademenos, he is with the American Heart Association. He joins us on the telephone from Dallas.

How common is it in a man, let's say of 87-years-old, to suffer this kind of small stroke?

DR. GEORGE HADEMENOS, AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION: Well, it could be very common because he possesses actually several of the risks factors which are known to increase one's risk for stroke. He is an older individual. I'm not sure about his health. But obviously the older you get, the more likely to suffer these strokes, especially the small types of strokes that he experienced.

MESERVE: If a person has had one of these strokes, how likely is it they will have a series of them? HADEMENOS: Very likely, actually, having a first stroke is a strong risk factor for having a recurrent, or a second stroke.

MESERVE: And how effective is medication in treating this?

HADEMENOS: Actually, quite effective, that's why it's very important to be evaluated by a neurologist, to try to identify what the source is and then proper medication intervention can take place to prevent the recurrent stroke.

MESERVE: If they do have a series of these strokes, do the effects tend to get worse?

HADEMENOS: Yes, they do, that's actually been shown in several studies, that the more strokes that one suffers, more brain tissue is damaged, thereby causing more disabilities, more neurological dysfunction.

MESERVE: Dr. Hademenos, thank you so much.

SESNO: Before you go doctor, though, if I can keep you on the phone just for one quick question. We know that the former president went to the hospital quickly yesterday, he complained of a nosebleed and he was released. That issue arose in the questioning with his doctors attending there, is there from a distance a connection that you can make there?

HADEMENOS: I'm sorry, a connection between what?

SESNO: Between the nosebleed and the stroke, which the doctors at the hospital said that first stroke, he may have had some two days ago and then another minor one perhaps today?

HADEMENOS: No, unfortunately, the reports that I've seen has been very sketchy and it's hard for me to make any specific comments about his particular case.

SESNO: OK, doctor, thanks very much -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: And now Bill Schneider joins us to talk.

Bill, you also had seen President Ford in the recent past.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I saw him in June at a conference at Beaver Creek. He gives an annual world forum for former world leaders. And I must say that I've seen him there many years. He was vigorous. He was on top of his game. He ran the meeting with great skill, very enthusiastic, asked a lot of penetrating questions. As we saw, his mental agility seems perfectly fine. And he's always been a physically fit man, he skis, he was a football player as we noted. So he kept fit and that probably is helping him through this crisis.

SESNO: The doctors say at the hospital, Bill, that the prognosis, from what they know, is pretty good. He's stable, completely alert at this time. And his mental functions are working perfectly. His thinking is perfect in the words of the doctor who is out there. But it does give a moment's pause to consider that, you know, these former presidents that we've seen here, and who were honored, are very much of that greatest generation.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, that's right, he's of a generation that represented a slightly different Republican Party; a kind of party that was more bipartisan in spirit, less tough and aggressive and ideological. And my view is that this is a convention that has honored Gerald Ford more than any other recent Republican convention would have.

For Republicans in recent years, 1980 was the year one. And they wanted to put Richard Nixon and even Gerald Ford behind them. They said Ronald Reagan came in, redefined the Republican Party as aggressively conservative, and they ignored their past.

But this convention is trying to recover a Republican past; a past of civility, of bipartisanship, of cooperation. Because they realize too aggressive a conservative position, too much divisiveness and harsh rhetoric has hurt the GOP.

SESNO: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

We have another doctor joining us on the phone, now. Dr Thomas Brott, he's with the Mayo Clinic and also the National Stroke Association. And we want to talk to you specifically, sir, if we may, about treatment options here. What does someone who has this apparent condition face in terms of treatment and what are the prospects?

DR. THOMAS BROTT, NATIONAL STROKE ASSOCIATION: The treatment of the stroke depends on its cause. And I'm not really aware of the symptoms . I was told that there was some dizziness. And if the cause is from a stroke involving a small blood vessel inside the brain, frequently medicines that keep platelets from being too sticky, such as aspirin, can be sufficient treatment.

However, when people have symptoms such as dizziness, in fact that's what happened, there are other causes of dizziness, which no doubt President Ford's doctors are investigating right now, and should narrowing of a larger blood vessel be found, or problems with the heart be found, treatments could be different.

SESNO: And this is the kind of medication one goes on and stays on presumably?

BROTT: Yes.

SESNO: And...

BROTT: Many people in his age group are already taking aspirin, and if that's the case, there may be a need for either a change in medication or additional medication.

SESNO: Does the symptoms that he complained of suggest anything by way of treatment? that is to say some dizziness and sinus problems? he felt he had wax in the ears or some blockage in his ears? BROTT: We call those nonspecific. Dizziness is, in a way, is like a temperature. It says that something's wrong, but it doesn't say what it is.

SESNO: And how does one go about determining, then, what caused the stroke and therefore the medication that should follow?

BROTT: No doubt an image of the brain was done immediately when stroke was suspected, either a CT scan or probably also an MRI scan, magnetic resonance imaging of the brain. There are also ways to look at the blood vessels. And I'm not certain where he's hospitalized but many medical centers have magnetic resonance and geography, where a magnet actually shows the blood vessels leading to and within the brain. That gives information as to where any blockage might be if the larger blood vessels are involved.

MESERVE: Doctor, what part could therapy play in his recovery?

BROTT: Well, it depends on the degree of injury. If the injury is mild, physical therapy would begin very, very quickly. And that could help.

MESERVE: And what are the chances that he could recover completely from this?

BROTT: Well, again, it depends on the degree of injury. But in recent stroke trials, stroke studies, up to half of the patients have a complete recovery, and those are in studies where patients have very, very severe symptoms. So prognosis for stroke in general is much better than I think most people realize.

MESERVE: Dr. Thomas Brott of the National Stroke Association, thanks so much for joining us here -- Frank?

BROTT: You're welcome.

SESNO: And thanks very much.

And we're joined now by Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn, who is the co-chair of this convention.

Thanks very much for coming in.

REP. JENNIFER DUNN (R), WASHINGTON: Thank you for having me.

SESNO: We had planned to have you here to talk about the convention and what lies ahead. I hope we'll get to some of that. But first I do want to ask you your thoughts on Gerald Ford and his condition. And have you had an opportunity to speak with him in the last couple of days?

DUNN: Yes, I have. I'm very saddened by this. I happened, coincidentally, to be in the holding room last night to talk with Nancy Reagan about a proposal that we have passed through the congressional body to award a Congressional Gold Medal to President and Mrs. Reagan. And I had a chance to speak to President Ford. And as always, when we talked, he was very interested in what was happen politically in Washington State because we were a state that went for Gerald ford in '76 by 4 1/2 points. And he remembers that campaign and he wanted to know how it was going. He looked very good to me, very healthy, strong, alert, very interested.

SESNO: And you did not detect any problems? He didn't talk to you about not feeling well?

DUNN: Not a thing, no. And he was seated, he got up to greet me and he seemed very well. So whatever happened I suspect happened afterwards. Obviously, we're very worried about it.

SESNO: There was, of course, a great tribute to all the former presidents last night, he among them. To what extent does this group and this convention here reach back to him and his era for where it is today?

DUNN: I think we're very proud of what he did. He brought back into government a sense of calm and control. We'd been through a very turbulent time and he was elected because he was somebody who had stayed above the fray. So that's a portion of our history that we remember well, and he was the one who moved us away from that.

MESERVE: Given what has happened this morning, do you expect more mention will be made of President Ford as the convention moves forward?

DUNN: I suspect so. We remember him with great pride. And he's been so involved ever since he was the president. He's appeared on behalf of candidates year after year and he gives very funny speeches, he raises a lot of money for candidates. But mostly, he and his wife are great role models for people. I mean, she was the first person who really openly, as a first lady, spoke about breast cancer. And of course that's something we work on very hard in Congress, to fund programs for the National Institutes of Health.

SESNO: You know we were looking at that video of the interview that Wolf Blitzer conducted with the former president last night and he said, you know, I'm looking forward -- the former president did -- to doing everything I can to bring about this new vision of the Republican Party. In fact, he has sort of stood for a more moderate, soft-spoken Republican Party for quite some time, hasn't he?

DUNN: Yes, he was known for that. And his aura, the way he is, his style is a lovely style. It's not confrontational. He likes to take on opposition candidates on issues, and we need to do more of that. That's what this convention is about here. I mean, we're talking about a really a softer side of the conservative message, the same principles, but you can do it with a smile, as Gerald Ford did and Ronald Reagan did and George Bush does.

And I think we're also connecting very well with women and others who don't have time in their everyday lives to study policy. But the stories in this convention -- I noticed when Condoleezza Rice spoke, for example, she related her career to what happened to her grandfather. People like that sort of narrative and it helps them connect with policies. I think we're being very successful at doing that in this convention.

SESNO: Congresswoman, we're going to ask you to stay with us for just a little bit. We want to bat things around just a bit, so if you could...

DUNN: Certainly.

SESNO: ... we'd appreciate it -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Well, we want to show you an excerpt of an interview that former President Ford did with "LARRY KING LIVE." The subject of the former president's health was discussed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I couldn't be healthier. Betty and I are having a magnificent life; 52 years of married life and four great children, 15 grandchildren. Everything is breaking just right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: That interview with Larry King was taped just yesterday by President Ford.

Joining us now from Atlanta, medical correspondent Rhonda Rowland -- Rhonda.

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jeanne. I've been listening to what all the doctors have been saying so far, and a lot of what we're hearing about are some of the symptoms, some of the typical symptoms. And it sounds like what President Ford has experienced is what many patients experience, which is sudden numbness or weakness, difficulty speaking or walking, being off balance. And we're hearing a lot about this kind of ear pain, and it's possible that maybe this is radiating from a severe headache. A severe headache is another sign.

And what everyone says over and over again is as soon as you experience some of these symptoms, you need to seek medical care. What often happens is people, they just -- they don't. They let it go because they think it's going to disappear, or it disappears quickly.

Often people experience what's called a mini-stroke. And we don't know how severe the president's strokes were, if it was one or two, but often if you have one small one, it could be a sign of another, bigger one to come afterwards. So that's why it's so important to seek this medical attention.

And, again, we're hearing that there is a lot that can be done if you seek medical care as quickly as these symptoms come on -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Rhonda, we know that President Ford went to the hospital last night. He then left and went back this morning. I'm wondering how often it is that, during a medical examination, this could be missed? Apparently he had this stroke a day or two ago. ROWLAND: Well, again, if it's a very small one, somebody could think that it is something else or that it's -- everything's fine and they release someone. But, again, during that period, if you have a small stroke, it's important to watch in the next few days, the next week, because if you have one, that is the time that you may have another one. So then hopefully the doctors are educating the patients about what they should look out for -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Rhonda Rowland, thanks so much for joining us from Atlanta.

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