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If Hillary Clinton decides to run for president, she knows every bit of her life will be put under a microscope. Republican strategist and Fox News commentator Karl Rove proved the point at an event near Los Angeles last Thursday.
In remarks reported in the New York Post, Rove raised questions about Clinton’s health following a mild concussion in 2012.
"Thirty days in the hospital," Rove said. "And when she reappears, she's wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what's up with that."
Many people took Rove’s comments to mean that he thinks Clinton has a brain injury, though Rove says he was just raising the question and that it should be part of any presidential vetting.
There are two points for us to cover in this fact check -- the time Clinton spent in the hospital and the nature of the glasses she wore for weeks afterward. (She doesn’t wear them now.)
First, the background. In December 2012, a stomach virus kept Clinton at home where she fainted and hit her head. During a follow-up visit, doctors spotted a blood clot, admitted her to the hospital and treated her with blood thinners.
Clinton was in the hospital for about four days, not 30, a point Rove got wrong. (In a subsequent interview, Rove said it was a "30-day period where she’s fighting something.")
Clinton testified near the end of January at a House hearing on the Benghazi, Libya, attack, and was seen wearing the glasses Rove referred to. A State Department spokesman said they were related to issues stemming from her concussion. The peculiar shape of one of the lenses led experts and doctors to conclude they were prismatic glasses.
The glasses are designed to help with blurred or double vision, experts told us. We spoke with Steven Galetta, who is chair of the Neurology Department at New York University Medical Center.
"About 30 to 50 percent of concussions lead to some kind of visual problem," Galetta said. "When there’s double vision, we can manage it by putting a prism over one eye. It bends the light to line up the image from the other eye."
Galetta said the glasses are often optional. Whether someone wears them depends on how quickly the person wants to get back to work.
"Most patients resolve (the issues) on their own," he said. "I’d say 85 to 90 percent of these patients do incredibly well and have no recognizable symptoms afterwards."
Given Clinton’s job as Secretary of State, Galetta said he could see why her doctors might have jumped in to deal with her complaint. Rove exagerated the tie between the glasses and trauma. Galetta said such lenses are used in cases other than traumatic brain injury. Anything that affects the ocular motor nerves or the way the eyes work together can produce double vision that then might be treated with prismatic glasses.
So while Rove said the glasses are used "only" for people with traumatic brain injury, doctors say that is incorrect.
More broadly, Rove’s characterization of Clinton’s concussion as a traumatic brain injury generated a bit of concern among the physicians we reached. Doug Smith is a professor of neurosurgery and director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania. Smith said the public might not understand how broadly the term applies.
The Centers for Disease Control report that 2.2 million head injuries sent people to the emergency room in 2010.
"Technically, a concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury," Smith said. "But Rove made a linkage that doesn’t fit. Having a concussion and wearing those glasses tell you nothing about a person’s cognitive status. The vast majority of people with concussions make a full recovery."
Rove said Clinton spent 30 days in the hospital and then emerged wearing glasses that only people with traumatic brain injury use. Rove since said he was wrong about the length of her hospital stay. The actual number is four days. By describing a long hospital stay and tying it to signs of traumatic brain injury, Rove associated Clinton with a more profound medical episode. Experts reject that association.
Concussions are the mildest form of traumatic brain injury. The glasses Clinton wore are an optional treatment for temporary problems of double vision that are relatively common among people who suffer concussions along with other conditions. She has not worn the glasses for some time, and the neurologists we contacted said most people recover fully.
While Rove never claimed Clinton suffered brain damage, he was wrong about the hospital stay and combined that with the glasses to exaggerate the nature of Clinton’s injury. His claim is inaccurate. We rate it False.
New York Post, Karl Rove: Hillary may have brain damage, May 12, 2014
Fox News, Rove defends comments questioning Clinton’s health, May 13, 2014
Washington Post, Rove on Hillary Clinton: ‘Of course she doesn’t have brain damage’, May 13, 2014
Politico, Karl Rove disputes Hillary Clinton remarks, May 13, 2014
Centers for Disease Control, Rates of TBI-related Emergency Department Visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths — United States, 2001–2010, Feb. 24, 2014
Sports Concussion Institute, Concussion Facts
American Association of Neurological Surgeons, Concussion, December 2011
CNN, Hillary Clinton treated for blood clot in her head, Jan. 1, 2013
ABC News, Hillary Clinton's Glasses Are For Concussion, Not Fashion, Jan. 25, 2013
Email interview, Kristin Davison, chief of staff, Karl Rove and Co., May 14, 2014
Interview, Doug Smith, professor of neurosurgery and director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair, University of Pennsylvania, May 13, 2014
Interview, Steven Galetta, chair of Neurology Department, New York University Medical Center, May 13, 2014
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