Each year, more than 100,000 North Americans die from medical mistakes. In 1962, newspapers reported that Eleanor Roosevelt was killed by her doctors at one of the most respected medical schools in the world.
She was the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, four-time president of the United States, and was considered “The First Lady of the World.”
In April 1960, at age 75, Eleanor Roosevelt was diagnosed as having aplastic anemia. However, she actually suffered from tuberculosis (TB). Doctors treated her anemia with cortisone, but that suppressed her immunity so the tuberculosis germs were able to spread rapidly through her body and kill her.
She was evaluated by her doctors to see why she was exhausted. She was found to have a very low red blood cell count, called anemia. A needle was inserted into her bone marrow and some of the marrow was removed. This showed that she had aplastic anemia, a condition in which the bone marrow stops making red blood cells. This disease can kill a patient because the red blood cell counts can drop so low that they cannot carry enough oxygen to supply her brain and she could smother to death.
In September, 1961, her red blood cell count dropped so low that she was given two blood transfusions. She started to bleed because the transfusion failed to replace her platelets, another type of blood cell that prevents bleeding. The doctors prescribed prednisone. a cortisone, to increase the number of platelets in her bloodstream to prevent her from bleeding to death. During the ensuing year, she required several blood transfusions. On August 3, 1962, she was admitted to the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City to be treated for a severe cough and fever. The doctors considered that she could be infected with TB, but her chest X ray was normal.
On September 26, she was admitted to the hospital for high fever, feeling very sick and tired, and bleeding from her colon. A chest X ray again was normal and showed no evidence of TB. However, she had excellent physicians who still looked for TB. The diagnosis takes a long time because doctors have to wait many weeks for the TB germ to grow in the laboratory. The doctors cultured her lung mucous for TB and four weeks later, it grew out TB. She started treatment with the standard tuberculosis regimen used throughout the world, of two anti-tuberculous drugs called isoniazid and streptomycin.
On October 2, she was seen by Dr. T Burns Amberson, one of the most respected lung specialists in the world, who doubted that Eleanor Roosevelt had TB, because her chest X ray showed no evidence that the TB germ had spread. Doctors did another bone marrow test to see if tuberculosis was in her bones, but it took four to six weeks more for the germ to grow out from the culture. She was obviously dying. She requested to be discharged from the hospital and allowed to die at home. On October 26, the culture grew out TB and she was definitively diagnosed as having tuberculosis. On November 4, she had a stroke and fell into a coma. She died on November 7, 1962.
The whole world was told that the famous and highly respected professors at Columbia Medical School had missed Eleanor Roosevelt’s diagnosis of TB and treated her with prednisone, which weakened her immunity and caused her death from TB.
However, forty years later, a well-researched report by Dr. Barron Lerner showed that there was nothing her doctors could have done to save her (Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 2001;5(12):1080-1085). Samples had been kept and Dr. Lerner was able to show that the tuberculosis germ that was isolated from Eleanor Roosevelt’s body was resistant to streptomycin and isoniazid. No other treatment for TB was available in the 1960′s that could have saved her.
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