Fri, Sep 23, 2022 9:53 AM
By MARC LEVY, Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, released his health records as he maneuvers to keep questions about Democratic rival John Fetterman’s recovery from a stroke front and center in the hotly contested campaign.
Dr. Rebecca Kurth in New York City wrote in a four-page letter that she found the 62-year-old heart surgeon-turned-TV celebrity to be in “excellent health" in an annual checkup Thursday.
The letter noted that Oz has a total cholesterol level that is “borderline elevated” but can be addressed by diet, and referenced that in 2010 he had a polyp -- a growth that sometimes can become cancerous -- removed from his colon. An electrocardiogram — a test that records electrical signals in the heart to detect heart problems — he had Thursday came out normal.
“Your examination is healthy, and the blood tests are favorable,” Kurth wrote. She recommended no medication.
The release of the health records comes as Oz is trying to close a gap in the polls and is increasingly making Fetterman's fitness to serve a central theme in his campaign.
Fetterman, 53, has been silent about releasing medical records or providing access for reporters to question his doctors, now more than four months after he suffered a stroke in May that has had lingering effects on his speech and hearing.
Two editorial boards, of The Washington Post and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have called for Fetterman to release medical records after his refusal to debate Oz more than once. The Post-Gazette said that should include cognitive tests and making his doctors available to reporters.
It said Oz should release his medical records, too — a request to which Oz quickly agreed.
In a statement, Oz said “voters should have full transparency when it comes to the health status of candidates running for office.” Oz, a heart surgeon, is best known for “The Dr. Oz Show,” which he hosted on daytime TV for 13 years.
Fetterman's campaign again made no commitment Friday to releasing records or providing access to his doctors.
Rather, he attacked Oz in a statement that revives some of the themes Fetterman has advanced during the campaign — including highlighting long-standing criticism that Oz often promoted questionable products and medical advice on his show.
“In June, I released a letter from my doctor where he clearly stated that I am fit to serve,” Fetterman said in the statement. “Dr. Oz built his entire career by lying to people about health. I trust my actual doctors over the opinion of a charlatan who played one on TV.”
Fetterman has been receiving speech therapy and the letter from his cardiologist said he will be fine and able to serve in the Senate if he eats healthy foods, takes prescribed medication and exercises.
The race in the presidential battleground to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey could help determine control of the closely divided Senate, and Democrats view it as perhaps their best opportunity to pick up a seat out of just a handful of close races nationally.
While it is customary for presidential candidates to release health records, there is no such custom in races for the U.S. Senate. Some U.S. senators have, in the past, released medical records when running for president.
Oz, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, also has questioned Fetterman's truthfulness in disclosing the effects of his stroke.
Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, maintains that doctors expect him to make a full recovery from the stroke and that he is quickly improving, cognitively unaffected and maintaining the healthiest habits of his life.
Fetterman suffered the stroke on May 13, four days before he easily won his Democratic primary. His victory came hours after he underwent surgery to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator. Three weeks after the stroke, Fetterman revealed that he had “almost died” and his cardiologist's letter disclosed he had a serious and potentially fatal heart condition.
Fetterman has been campaigning and speaking at public events, but speaks haltingly at times, garbles an occasional word and struggles to hear through background noise and quickly process what he’s hearing. He recently agreed to one debate against Oz, to be held Oct. 25, though Oz had pressed for more.
Fetterman will receive closed-captioning at the debate, but the candidates are still bickering about the terms. Oz is pushing to expand it to 90 minutes, from 60 minutes, to account for any delays from closed captioning.
Publicly, top Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have sought to calm party nerves over Fetterman’s condition, saying they are confident he is capable of serving.
Still, Fetterman has given reporters limited access to question him directly, doing just a few interviews since the stroke, all through video with closed-captioning to help him with auditory processing.
In a 2016 Senate contest in Illinois, Democrat Tammy Duckworth released years of medical records when there were questions about the fitness of Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who had suffered a stroke in 2012.
Kirk was still suffering the effects of the stroke four years later, and, like Fetterman, did not provide access to his doctors or medical records. Still, Duckworth said during a debate that she thought Kirk was capable of doing the job but “the problem is he’s not doing it.”
Late in the race, Kirk's campaign released a one-page letter from a treating physician that said the senator had made a “full cognitive recovery” while still speaking haltingly, dealing with limited use of his left leg and the inability to use his left arm, the Chicago Tribune reported at the time.
Kirk ended up losing his reelection bid.
Associated Press medical writer Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report. Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/timelywriter.