Nixon's condition critical swelling threatens life

April 21, 1994|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- In the second full day after suffering a paralyzing stroke, former President Richard M. Nixon remained in critical condition last night, with swelling in his brain continuing to threaten his life, officials of New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center said.

The swelling, a potentially fatal complication of a stroke, results when damaged arteries begin to break down and fluid leaks into the brain. This leakage further damages cells already harmed by lack of oxygen when the stroke occurred.

The amount of swelling, or cerebral edema, is generally directly related to the seriousness of the stroke.

Mr. Nixon, 81, was described as having suffered "a big stroke" by a health worker who is involved in his care but would not allow his name to be used. The stroke paralyzed Mr. Nixon's right arm and leg, and impaired his speech and vision.

Mr. Nixon's doctors believe his stroke was caused by a a blood clot that formed in his heart, then traveled through the blood stream to lodge in the middle cerebral artery in the brain, cutting the flow of oxygen.

Mr. Nixon's condition is "touch and go," the health worker said.

Late yesterday afternoon, the hospital issued a statement saying that Mr. Nixon was in intensive care and that there would be no updates unless his condition changed.

In a news conference late yesterday, President Clinton said he and Mrs. Clinton were praying for Mr. Nixon's recovery.

Among the messages that poured in to the hospital from around the world was one from Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, who wrote, "I hope you recover and return to the rough and tumble of political life."

Although Mr. Nixon's doctors said medical workers were able to waken the former president yesterday morning, by afternoon he was described as drowsy. He had been reported to be agitated earlier in the day and was given a drug belonging to the benzodiazepine class, the health care worker said.

Benzodiazepines or hypnotics, among them Valium, Dalmane and Xanax, are used to treat a number of conditions, including anxiety, seizures and insomnia.

Last night, 48 hours after his stroke, Mr. Nixon was entering the peak period for brain swelling. That period is usually 48 to 72 hours after a stroke and continues up to 96 hours, after which the swelling usually starts to subside.

Doctors can try to reduce the swelling by making a patient breathe faster with the aid of a mechanical respirator. But Mr. Nixon has not been put on a respirator, out of deference to his explicit wishes, the health worker said.

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