Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Focus on an Odd Spot

National Archives/Reuters - 'SICK MAN AT YALTA' During the cold war, detractors claimed that Stalin took advantage of Roosevelt's ill health at the Allied conference in 1945, just before the president died.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt died unexpectedly on April 12, 1945, in Warm Springs, Ga., the White House lost no time announcing a cause of death.

The 63-year-old president, the shocked and grieving nation was told, had died of cerebral hemorrhage. (“Last Words,” read a front-page headline in The New York Times: “ ‘I Have a Terrific Headache.’ ”)

That Roosevelt died of a stroke is undisputed. But what caused it is a medical mystery that has persisted to this day, a mystery heightened by the secrecy in which he, his aides and his doctors always insisted on shrouding his health.

Now a new book — “F.D.R.’s Deadly Secret,” by a neurologist, Dr. Steven Lomazow, and a journalist, Eric Fettmann (PublicAffairs) — revives an intriguing theory. Look closely at Roosevelt’s portraits over his 12-year presidency. In his first two terms, there is a dark spot over his left eyebrow. It seems to grow and then mysteriously vanishes sometime around 1940, leaving a small scar.

Was the spot a harmless mole? Or a cancerous melanoma that spread to contribute to, or even cause, his death? Melanomas, after all, are known for causing strokes from bleeding when they spread to the brain. This hypothesis is not new.

Tracking F.D.R’s Mole 

Tracking F.D.R’s Mole

The speculation about a melanoma cannot be verified because there was no autopsy and no known biopsy, and most of Roosevelt’s medical records disappeared shortly after his death from a safe in the United States Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md.

Disappeared? Or were made to disappear?

Even in the 1940s, some Washington insiders claimed that Roosevelt knew he was seriously ill, if not dying, when he ran for his final term, and that was one of the reasons he dumped his vice president, Henry A. Wallace, from the Democratic ticket in favor of Harry S. Truman. But most historians say he picked Truman for political reasons, not for his qualifications.

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