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Online Medical Museum Exhibit Explores History of Presidential Health
Chief Complaints: Health of the American President offers inside look at the impact of illness on the Presidency over time

BALTIMORE, Jan. 18, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The 59th Presidential Inauguration and Swearing in Ceremony is expected to take place on January 20. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris plan to take their oaths of office at the U.S. Capitol. According to a statement from the presidential inaugural committee, "The ceremony's footprint will be extremely limited, and the parade that follows will be reimagined." This is an effort to keep both the incoming administration as well as the general public safe.

For the past year, the COVID-19 health crisis has been at the forefront of our nation's attention and will remain a prominent focus of the incoming administration. When the President of the United States gets sick, headlines are written and the world pays attention. Regardless of whether the nation's leader is involved in a minor accident or stricken with a major illness, his health can affect the operation of the entire nation and impact political events around the world. Presidents receive the finest health care available when ill or injured, but sometimes it's not enough.

The William P. Didusch Center for Urologic History of the American Urological Association (AUA), located in Linthicum, MD, put together a retrospective exhibit called Chief Complaints: Health of the American President. It outlines the medical ailments and the recommended treatments of U.S. Presidents throughout history – many of which were urological.

  • Thomas Jefferson, our nation's third president, suffered from headaches and gastrointestinal problems thought to be cured with a cold bath and going to bed early. He also was diagnosed with an enlarged prostate and was taught to self-catheterize to alleviate his symptoms.
  • William Henry Harrison, the nation's ninth president and first president to die in office, contracted a cold during his inauguration ceremony which developed into pneumonia. Among the many failed treatments were: camphor, brandy, crude petroleum and leeches. He served only 32 days in office.
  • James Polk, the 11th US president suffered from painful bladder stones starting at the age of 17. He eventually had a procedure to remove the stones called a lithotomy. The operation was performed while he was awake with brandy given as the only sedative. While successful in removing the stones, the operation is thought to have rendered him sterile.
  • In the 1960's, Ronald Regan was diagnosed with prostate stones after a series of urinary tract infections. In 1987, he also underwent surgery to alleviate an enlarged prostate. No cancer was found.

"As we look at selected stories of American presidents' illnesses, we see significant changes in medical practices throughout our nation's history ranging from the invention of improved diagnostic tools to the discovery of antibiotics," says Dr. Ronald Rabinowitz, AUA Historian. "Medical museums such as the William P. Didusch Center for Urologic History preserve many unique and timeless artifacts that reflect the humans who devised them and the society in which they existed." Although closed to the public during the pandemic, visitors can view exhibits, collections and even the gift shop online:

The Didusch Center encompasses a rich and varied collection of drawings, photographs and instruments of historical importance to urology, many displayed in urological exhibits. The center also houses a library devoted to urological and early medical texts and the AUA archives.

The public can virtually view the entire Chief Complaints: Health of the American President exhibit for free.

About the American Urological Association: Founded in 1902 and headquartered near Baltimore, Maryland, the American Urological Association is a leading advocate for the specialty of urology and has nearly 24,000 members throughout the world. The AUA is a premier urologic association, providing invaluable support to the urologic community as it pursues its mission of fostering the highest standards of urologic care through education, research and the formulation of health policy.

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SOURCE American Urological Association