Pennsylvania senate candidate John Fetterman’s health has come under questioning following his performance in a debate against Republican opponent Dr Mehmet Oz on Tuesday night. The Democrat nominee, who has served as the 34th lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania since 2019, suffered a stroke in May this year. During the debate, Fetterman’s speech was, at times, slow and halting but a stroke doctor told Express.co.uk the condition is unlikely to impact his ability to lead.
During the debate against TV star Dr Oz, part of one of the most tightly contested midterm senate races, Fetterman used closed captioning due to trouble with auditory processing as a result of the stroke.
His performance gained some criticism from members of the opposition, as well as members on the left and other political commentators.
Donald Trump Jnr said the debate was “worse than any of us could have ever imagined” on Twitter.
But doctors have argued having difficulty processing spoken words is a common symptom following a stroke but it doesn’t mean survivors struggle to understand what is being said.
Dr Atif Zafar, a stroke neurologist and author of Why Doctors Need To Be Leaders, told Express.co.uk: “Strokes can be devastatingly disabling for many people. However, patients who get treatment in a timely way do recover better.
“In the recent videos I have seen of Mr Fetterman’s post-stroke, if I have to guess, I would say he has been one of the lucky ones.”
He said, based on the location of the stroke, people can have varying symptoms, which “can range from the weakness of one side of the body, slurring of words, inability to talk, and balance issues” among others.
Fetterman previously said his stroke recovery “changes everything” but assured he, and doctors, believe he will be able to serve effectively as Pennsylvania’s senator.
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Stroke patients usually show significant improvement by the sixth month but recovery continues up to 12 months and “pretty much stagnates” after one and a half years, Mr Zafar said.
He added: “In the recent videos I have seen, as a stroke doctor I would not worry about decision-making limitations in Mr Fetterman.”
The intellectual requirements for a senator are “wisdom, the ability to take the pressure, and leadership”, which all “appear to be intact”, according to the medical professional.
Similarly, Human U Sheikh, MD Assistant Professor of Neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine, told Express.co.uk “it is difficult to analyse” Fetterman’s “cognitive ability just by watching his speech”, but she revealed that a person’s “cognition, executive function, ability to make decisions, personality, and memory are in different parts of the brain”.
His communication and the “fluency” in his language, during the debate, appeared “hindered”, but she assured that many stroke survivors are able to work and function effectively, and his language problems don’t “necessarily mean his cognition is impacted”.
Other stroke survivors have come out in support of Fetterman, highlighting their own recovery.
Judy Gage, from New York, told NBC News she felt heartbroken watching Fetterman struggle to communicate during the debate. She said: “He speaks differently now. That doesn’t mean that what’s up in his brain is any different than it was before, it’s just short circuiting when it comes out.”
Meanwhile, actor Mark Ruffalo, in support of Fetterman, highlighted his own health issues on Twitter, writing: “As someone who suffered a brain tumour and temporary cognitive dysfunction, I can relate to John. This is a minor thing that passes.”