October 8th, 2008
01:03 PM ET

Presidential health and your vote

By Caleb Hellerman
CNN Medical Senior Producer

A few weeks ago I saw something extraordinary: the medical planning book for one of President Bush’s presidential trips. It was almost three dozen pages. Not a briefing book, not a policy paper, just collected medical information, itineraries, routes and contact information for every possible specialist who might be in the area. What was really extraordinary is that this was no special moment – just a simple day trip, a half-day of official business in another state.

The president is no ordinary patient. As we put together a documentary, “Fit to Lead,” about White House medical care, we’ve seen again and again that caring for the president comes with special considerations. The logistics alone are staggering. Along with planning books like the one I saw, the president always has his doctor nearby, or one of a handful of backups on the White House medical staff. Air Force One has a mobile operating room on board. When the president is in a foreign country, some poor medical staffer has to lug around a heavy cooler filled with containers of the president’s blood type.

The stakes are high, but presidents are flesh and blood, subject to the same ailments as the rest of us. It’s just that when the president gets sick, it can change the course of history. Franklin Roosevelt was suffering from congestive heart failure at the Yalta peace talks after World War Two. He died two months later. Some historians say he wasn’t thinking clearly – that he never would have given Joseph Stalin so much control over Eastern Europe if he weren’t so sick and physically weak. Of course we’ll never know for sure.

These stakes are why the president’s health is so important. Why we go to such lengths to protect him (or her, someday). And why millions of Americans say the presidential candidates’ health is something they’ll consider when casting their vote.

Is your candidate's health something you are considering when you cast your vote in November?

Programming note: Don't miss CNN Special Investigations Unit "Fit to Lead" with Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th at 8p and 11p ET

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.