Sunday, July 14, 2024

Trump relies on a doctor who is a member of his golf club to vouch for his health

Trump relies on a doctor who is a member of his golf club to vouch for his health

BEDMINSTER, N.J. — As former president Donald Trump escalated his attacks on President Biden’s health and mental fitness last fall, Trump released the first updated report on his own condition in more than three years.

This assessment, however, stood in stark contrast to the relatively detailed reports released by the White House during his term. Instead of specifics like blood pressure and medications, the letter had just three paragraphs without specific numbers proclaiming that Trump was in “excellent health” and had “exceptional” cognitive ability. It did not disclose Trump’s weight.

And after relying on a longtime personal doctor and then two White House physicians who had attested to his well-being in office, Trump turned to an unknown on the national stage to provide this report: Bruce A. Aronwald, a 64-year-old osteopathic physician from New Jersey — and a longtime member of Trump’s Bedminster golf club.

Trump’s and Biden’s cognition and general health have emerged as one of the primary issues for a majority of voters in the presidential race. There’s no rule that candidates must be more forthcoming about their health, but the lead author of an academic study of medical reports issued by Trump and Biden in the last campaign said the lack of detail in the letter makes it difficult for voters to truly understand whether the 77-year-old Trump is truly in better health than his 81-year-old opponent, as he regularly proclaims on the trail.

Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, began his political career in 2015 by releasing a vague and hyperbolic medical report declaring that he’d be the healthiest president in history, which his physician at the time later said Trump had dictated to him. The new letter also provides none of the usual details for the public to examine, such as the precise extent to which Trump has continued to battle obesity and high cholesterol, as he did in office.

Aronwald declined to meet with a Washington Post reporter who visited his office about 19 miles from Trump’s golf club, and — through Trump’s campaign — said in a statement that he saw no reason to release further details about Trump’s health before the election.

“There is no need for President Trump to release another medical report in addition to the one he recently made public,” Aronwald said, referring to his November letter. “The President is strong physically and sharp cognitively, and he’s in excellent health overall.”

When The Post asked the campaign if Trump dictated the November letter to Aronwald, a person authorized to speak about the matter only on the condition of anonymity responded, “No.”

While it is Trump’s prerogative to keep the information private, S. Jay Olshansky, the lead author of a 2020 report in the journal Active Aging that compared the projected life span and health of Biden and Trump, said Aronwald’s letter lacks the specifics necessary to discern much information about Trump’s health.

Biden has released a six-page letter that details his blood tests, conditions and medications, which the White House said gives voters a clearer picture of health. “Joe Biden is proud to have been transparent with his health records as Vice President, as a presidential candidate, and as President,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. “He believes all leaders owe that level of honesty to the American people.”

A Post review of Aronwald found him to be a well-respected local doctor who had found notable success with a “concierge” medical service catering to well-off clientele like Trump; some patients say he has never been openly political. Federal campaign finance records show only a $1,000 donation in 2015 to the presidential campaign of former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R).

Aronwald is also a well-known figure at Trump’s Bedminster club, with members saying they had noticed he spent time with Trump and his family when they were all at their villas near the pool.

“If you are sitting around the pool, you see him all the time,” a club member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe what he saw at a private venue, said of Aronwald. “He is a fixture.”

In a statement to The Post for this story, Trump praised Aronwald, who has treated him since 2021.

“Dr. Aronwald is one of the best doctors in all of New Jersey and possibly the entire country,” Trump said. “He has a great reputation and I have many friends who have been patients of his for years. A great doctor.”

Trump has long relied on personal physicians and White House doctors to respond to — and sometimes insulate him from — questions about his health.

In 2015, he tweeted that “as a presidential candidate, I have instructed my longtime doctor to issue, within two weeks, a full medical report — it will show perfection.”

A full medical report was not immediately forthcoming. Instead, the following day, Trump’s then-physician, Harold Bornstein, signed a four-paragraph letter that said Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” It provided only a few metrics such as blood pressure and a PSA test for prostate screening.

Bornstein, a gastroenterologist who died in 2021, later told CNN that Trump “dictated that whole letter. I didn’t write that letter. I just made it up as I went along.”

As the 2016 campaign developed, Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, released a detailed medical report and challenged Trump to do the same.

After pressure mounted on Trump to release more information, Bornstein conducted another examination and, in September 2016, Trump went on “The Dr. Oz Show” and, with a dramatic flourish, pulled out a new report for Oz to read. That letter included more information about blood tests and other metrics than the first letter, and said Trump was in “excellent physical health.”

In early 2017, Bornstein told the New York Times that Trump took drugs for hair loss, rosacea and high cholesterol. As a result of that revelation, he said he was told he was no longer under consideration to be White House physician. And two days after that article was published, Bornstein later told NBC News, a White House official and two others conducted a “raid” on his office to obtain the president’s medical records, which he said made him feel “raped, frightened and sad.” The White House responded at the time that it was “standard operating procedure” to obtain the documents and denied that it was a raid.

During his presidency, Trump’s first White House physician, Ronny Jackson, appeared in the White House briefing room in 2018 to announce that tests performed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center found Trump to be in excellent health.

The results were detailed, showing that Trump’s weight had increased from 236 to 239 pounds, which qualified him as borderline obese for a man of 6-3. Jackson also said that Trump had scored a 30 out of 30 on a basic cognitive test designed to detect early signs of cognitive impairment. Jackson said nothing was being withheld from the tests, and he said that Trump’s release was more than any president before him had done. Jackson recommended that Trump try to lose 10 to 15 pounds.

But some physicians and analysts at the time said the report also showed Trump had an increased risk of heart problems — underscoring why releasing detailed results can provide important information beyond a general statement. CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, noted that a CT scan showed that Trump’s coronary calcium score was 133, up from 98 in 2013 and 34 in 2009. Gupta wrote that a score over 100 “indicates plaque is present and that the patient has heart disease,” and also noted Trump had increased cholesterol levels. Jackson said in releasing the report that he had increased Trump’s cholesterol-lowering medication, in addition to his recommendations about diet. (No numbers about cholesterol or calcium were released in the latest report.)

Jackson, who is now a GOP congressman representing Texas, has been an outspoken supporter of Trump and critic of Biden’s health. The Navy in 2022 demoted him from retired rear admiral to retired captain after a Pentagon’s inspector general’s report that substantiated allegations about his inappropriate behavior as White House physician, The Post recently reported.

In November 2019, Trump went on an unannounced trip to the Walter Reed facility, which his spokeswoman said was a two-hour visit to give him a head start on his annual physical.

Trump released medical test results in 2019 and 2020 under the supervision of Sean Conley, who was then serving as his White House physician. They showed Trump had not lost weight in line with Jackson’s recommendation. Instead, his weight continued to increase, to 243 in 2019 and 244 in 2020, putting him in the obese range. He was being treated with a statin for high cholesterol levels.

Conley supported Trump’s usage of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, during the coronavirus pandemic. Conley wrote a May 18, 2020, memo in which he said he had discussed the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine and “concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.”

Then, after Trump contracted covid-19 in the fall of 2020, Conley made statements that played down the severity of Trump’s illness that were later contradicted by other White House officials and subsequent reporting. While Conley wrote in a memo that Trump was recovering and had “no symptoms,” then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters that Trump was doing worse than Conley had let on. Conley later said that “it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true. … The fact of the matter is that he’s doing really well.”

After Trump lost his reelection bid, it was more than three years until he updated his medical status with the letter written by Aronwald.

A native of Bridgewater, N.J., Aronwald attended Syracuse University and received his osteopathic degree from an institution formerly known as the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 1986. (The school was later dissolved and its osteopathic department was taken over by Rowan University.) He served on the staff of a hospital and then joined a small family practice specializing in sports medicine.

By 2002, Aronwald entered the newly emerging field of concierge medicine, which caters to wealthy patients by charging an annual fee that gives them more access to doctors. A story from that time in a local publication, the Daily Record, said Aronwald had typically seen 30 to 40 patients a day, often receiving payment from “decreasing Medicare and HMO reimbursements.” Under the concierge system, Aronwald told the paper, he saw 10 to 12 patients daily who could afford to pay an $1,800 annual fee while also maintaining health insurance. The model proved lucrative and he helped other practices adopt it.

At some point he became a member of the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, which Trump opened in 2004. Trump has a house next to the club’s swimming pool, and he used the clubhouse during his presidency to entertain dignitaries and friends.

Aronwald in 2022 played in the Senior Interclub Championship at the Trump club. An individual familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to comment on the club, confirmed Aronwald is still a member.

Ira Monka, the president of the American Osteopathic Association, said Aronwald, with whom he once practiced, is one of New Jersey’s “top concierge doctors. You get to that point, you could not get there if you were not a solid fundamentally strong primary care doctor.” Monka noted that Aronwald and Biden’s doctor, Kevin C. O’Connor, are both osteopathic physicians, a profession that the association says is designed to bring harmony to a body’s structure and function and focuses on “the whole person: body, mind and spirit.”

Jack Kripsak, a physician who has known Aronwald for 50 years, said in an interview that Aronwald “has a lot of patients from that area, from that club — being a concierge doctor, he’s going to get that clientele.”

Kripsak said that Aronwald may have initially provided services to Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who also have a villa at Bedminster. Kushner could not be reached for comment. (A person with knowledge of the matter said that some members of the Trump family had previously known Aronwald but would not be more specific.) Kripsak said the former president reached out to Aronwald and asked whether he would become his primary care physician.

“It came as a surprise to Bruce. He called me and said, ‘President Trump gave me a call’” about being interviewed to be his personal physician, Kripsak said. After the interview, Aronwald told Kripsak that Trump “asked me to be his personal physician.”

Sandeep Tungare, a software developer who is a Democrat and contributor to Biden’s presidential campaign, said he has been a patient of Aronwald for three decades and has never heard him express political views. “I just think he is a good doctor,” Tungare said.

In his Nov. 23 letter about Trump’s health, Aronwald said he had conducted the most recent examination of Trump on Sept. 13, 2023. While not providing any specific numbers or names of prescription medication, Aronwald wrote that Trump’s “overall health is excellent,” that his physical exams were “well within the normal range and his cognitive exams were exceptional.” The letter also said that Trump’s cardiovascular studies were normal and cancer tests were negative.

The letter added that his laboratory analysis was well within the normal range and “even more favorable than prior testing in some of the most significant parameters, most likely secondary to weight reduction.”

The letter did not provide Trump’s blood test numbers or his weight, leaving it unclear if he would still be considered obese. Nonetheless, Aronwald wrote that Trump had “reduced his weight through an improved diet and continued daily activity, while maintaining a rigorous schedule.”

Olshansky, the researcher on aging, said Aronwald’s brief letter is not sufficient for his team of researchers to make an updated assessment later this year on Trump’s projected life span. Instead, the full “medical records are extraordinarily valuable,” he said. “They tell a story about health prospects for survival going forward. You can’t really do a thorough assessment of life span and health span without the medical records.”

Biden’s doctor, in his letter, gave a more detailed analysis, including metrics for cholesterol, blood pressure, weight and an electrocardiogram, providing more transparency but also information that might be cited by a political opponent.

O’Connor wrote that the president is being treated with a variety of medications, has a “stiff” gait, and is being treated for conditions including obstructive sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux and sensory peripheral neuropathy of his feet. Nonetheless, these conditions were not considered impediments, and O’Connor concluded that Biden is “a healthy, active, robust 81-year-old” who is fit to be president.

Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.

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