Bob Dole was a United States senator from Kansas for 27 years, from 1969 to 1996, the Republican Leader of the Senate for 11 years, the Senate Majority Leader for three years, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996 and the vice presidential nominee in 1976. He died at age 98 from lung cancer after a lifetime of service to our country, in spite of suffering many serious medical problems.
Early Life and War Injuries
Dole was born in 1923 in a ramshackle one-bedroom house in Russell, Kansas, to parents who ran a small creamery. He was a star athlete in high school and at age 18 was recruited by a famous coach, Phog Allen, to play basketball at the University of Kansas. He played on the basketball team there and also was a very good track athlete and football player.
After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, this gifted athlete left college before graduation to enlist in the US army. In 1945, at age 22, he led a group of elite US soldiers in the Apennine mountains southwest of Bologna, Italy and by the end of the day, 98 of his soldiers had died on Hill 913. He was hit by a German shell that shattered his upper body and damaged his spine to permanently paralyze his right arm and cause loss of feeling in his left arm. His fellow soldiers believed that he would die, so they “gave him the largest dose of morphine they dared and wrote an ‘M’ for ‘morphine’ on his forehead in his own blood, so that nobody else who found him would give him a second, fatal dose.” He was carried to safety and put in a cast covering his upper body, and he lay in a hospital bed in Pistoia, Italy for weeks. In the hospital, he suffered blood clots and an infection that caused a fever of 109 degrees. Penicillin did not stop his infection, so he was among the first soldiers to receive an experimental drug called streptomycin. He spent a total of 39 months in hospitals including two years in a Michigan rehabilitation hospital.
Eventually he learned to walk again but his right arm remained paralyzed and he never regained feeling in his left arm. His treating doctors told that he could lose the full functional use of his arms, but fortunately, he consulted Hampar Kelikian, an orthopedist in Chicago who had his own serious problems as a survivor of the Armenian genocide. Dr Kelikian told Dole that he would never be able to recover complete use of his hands but he inspired him to “focus on what I had left and what I could do with it, rather than complaining what had been lost.” Dr. Kelikian operated on Dole seven times and never charged him for his services. The federal hospital where he stayed is now called Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center to honor three patients who went on to become United States Senators: Dole, Philip Hart, and Daniel Inouye.
Stellar Political Career
Dole served in the senate for 27 years. After losing the 1996 presidential election at age 73, he spent his time writing, giving speeches and making television appearances. He had received a law degree from Washburn University at age 29 in 1952, so after leaving the senate, he joined a Washington DC law firm and was a registered lobbyist for foreign governments such as Kosovo, Taiwan, and Slovenia. He also did a lot of charity work, serving as national chairman of the World War II Memorial Campaign, serving as a member of Families of Freedom Foundation for scholarships to pay for the education of the families of 9/11 victims, and working tirelessly to battle hunger in the United States.
Multiple Medical Problems
• In 1991, at age 68, he had his prostate removed as treatment for prostate cancer. This caused erectile dysfunction and he became a public spokesman for that condition and even did advertisements for Viagra.
• In 2001, at age 77, he was operated on successfully for an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
• In 2004, at age 80, he had hip replacement surgery that caused blood clots that required hm to take blood thinners.
• In 2005, at age 80, the anti-clotting drugs he was taking caused him to bleed into his brain and he spent 40 days at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The stroke caused him to lose control of both of his arms and long after he was discharged from the hospital, he had to go to Walter Reed several times a week for physical therapy training.
• In 2009, at age 84, he was hospitalized for a rapid heart rate and non-healing ulcers on his legs that required skin grafts.
• In February 2010, at age 86, he was hospitalized for 10 months for knee surgery and three bouts of pneumonia.
• In January 2011, at age 87, he was admitted to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for six days for a generalized infection.
• In November 2012, at age 88, he was hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat.
• In September 2017, at age 93, he was hospitalized for low blood pressure.
• In February 2021 at age 98, he announced that he had stage IV lung cancer that had spread through his body and that he was receiving immunotherapy, rather than chemotherapy. Immunotherapy teaches a person’s immunity to kill cancer cells and can result in permanent cures for some cancers that appear to be hopeless.
• On December, 5, 2021 at age 98, he died from the lung cancer that had spread through his body.
Lessons from Bob Dole’s Long and Productive Life
Some people have the extraordinary ability to overcome severe and serious handicaps. In spite of suffering from many medical problems, Bob Dole worked tirelessly for his country. His magnificent work ethic and dedication to his country carried him through for 98 years. If you are unfortunate to have a serious medical handicap, you should be inspired by the life history of Bob Dole.
Robert Joseph Dole
July 22, 1923 – December 5, 2021