‘Sudden Cardiac Death’: Doctors Raise Concerns About Fetterman's Health

John Fetterman
John Fetterman / AP
May 24, 2022

Pennsylvania lieutenant governor John Fetterman (D.) claims he is on his way to a speedy recovery following a stroke earlier this month. But some doctors are offering a darker prognosis, saying the Senate candidate is at risk of "sudden cardiac death."

Physicians told the New York Times that Fetterman’s stroke, which he suffered on May 13, was more severe than he’s let on. They said that the procedures Fetterman underwent—the implantation of a pacemaker and defibrillator—suggest he has an undisclosed heart condition.

"He is at risk for sudden cardiac death," Dr. Elaine Wan, a stroke doctor at Columbia University, told the Times. "For someone on the campaign trail that might raise concerns."

Dr. Lee Schwamm, a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School and stroke specialist, said one procedure used on Fetterman, a thrombectomy, suggests that the stroke was caused by the blockage of a major artery near Fetterman’s brain.

"These strokes tend to be very severe," said Schwamm. "He is fortunate that he went to a hospital that could treat it."

The diagnoses contradict Fetterman’s claim his stroke was minor. Fetterman, whose imposing frame has earned him the nickname "Big John," had a pacemaker implanted the same day he easily defeated Rep. Conor Lamb in the Democratic primary. Fetterman insisted he was on the way to a "full recovery" and predicted he would return to the campaign trail "sometime soon."

Fetterman’s health is of particular concern as he heads into what is expected to be the most intense Senate election this cycle. Fetterman will face either celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz or businessman David McCormick for a seat Democrats desperately need to win in order to maintain their Senate majority.

Throughout a rough primary campaign, Fetterman fought off questions about a 2013 incident in which he pulled a shotgun on an unarmed black jogger, and defended his past support for democratic socialists like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.).

Fetterman and his allies have been cagey about his recovery. According to the Times, his campaign abruptly ended a conference call with reporters last week after questions about his health. Fetterman has not said when he plans to hit the campaign trail, saying only that he would do so after he is "100 percent" recovered.