Agnew died of acute leukemia Undiagnosed cancer of blood is blamed for unexpected death

September 19, 1996|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Sandy Banisky, Dan Fesperman, Peter Jensen, C. Fraser Smith and Scott Wilson contributed to this article.

In an article in yesterday's editions of The Sun on Spiro Agnew's death, a statement on the many forms of leukemia -- saying that leukemia is "sort of like a last name. It has many first names" -- should have been attributed to Dr. Charles Schiffer, a hematologist and oncologist at the University of Maryland's Greenebaum Cancer Center.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew's death was caused by acute leukemia, a cancer of the blood and blood-making organs that apparently went undiagnosed until the end, his doctors said yesterday.

Agnew died Tuesday evening after being rushed to a hospital in Berlin, a few miles west of his summer home in Ocean City. Acquaintances said he had seen a doctor earlier in the day after complaining of feeling ill.


Agnew's family said he had remained active, and some friends said he seemed well in the days before he was stricken. But others said he seemed thinner, and had complained for months of waning energy and other problems.

Weight loss and fatigue are two of the most common symptoms of leukemia.

"Nothing was wrong with him. He looked 100 percent fit," said Fred Musiani, an Ocean City restaurateur and a close friend of Agnew's. He said the pair had a golfing date planned on Tuesday, but it was washed out by rain. They had another tee time set for 10: 45 a.m. today at the Ocean City Golf & Yacht Club.

But H. W. "Woody" Hutchinson, superintendent of the Agnews' condominium tower in Ocean City, said Judy Agnew told him that her husband had seen a doctor Tuesday morning and had blood drawn after complaining of not feeling well.

Former Baltimore County Councilman Norman W. Lauenstein, an Essex lawyer, said Agnew telephoned him in July and said he had just returned from a business trip to Asia, and felt terrible.

" 'I never felt so ill in my whole life as I did on that trip to Asia,' " Lauenstein quoted Agnew saying. "He sounded in good spirits. He was always upbeat. But he said he was just so sick."

Dr. Steven Gore, 39, an assistant professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said, "It would be unusual for someone to have an acute leukemia that wasn't otherwise causing symptoms. To cause a precipitous death like that would be pretty unusual, but not impossible."

"If anything, somebody who's 77 and developing acute leukemia is more likely to have symptoms recognized earlier," he said.

Agnew was Maryland's governor but little-known nationally in 1968 when he was chosen by Republican presidential nominee Richard M. Nixon to join him on the 1968 GOP ticket. He won re-election with Nixon in 1972, but was forced to resign in 1973 after he pleaded no contest to a charge of income tax evasion.

He later settled into a quiet, very private life as an international business consultant.

He and his wife spent their winters in Rancho Mirage, Calif., but customarily vacationed from May until September at their Ocean City condominium. Friends said the Agnews were preparing to return to California next month.

A statement issued by the Agnew family yesterday said the 77-year-old's death was a "sudden passing, there was no suffering and he had been very active to this point."

The statement praised the Ocean City paramedics who responded to the Agnews' 911 call Tuesday, saying they "went so far as to offer personal support to the family and held their hand."

They also thanked Drs. Daniel Carlin and William Greer, and the staff at Atlantic General Hospital, in Berlin, where he was taken.

Agnew's body was taken to the Ullrich Funeral Home in Berlin. Funeral arrangements were incomplete, but services will be private, the family said.

A spokeswoman for the Ocean City Fire Department said a 911 call was placed at 3: 13 p.m. Tuesday from a telephone listed to Agnew's oceanfront condominium, on the 11th-floor of English Towers, near 100th Street. The problem was logged as "respiratory distress."

The ambulance from Ocean City's Montego Bay station arrived at the building at 3: 16 p.m. and left 17 minutes later for Atlantic General Hospital, she said. They arrived at the hospital at 3: 47 p.m.

Fire officials declined to say whether Agnew was conscious or responsive to questions during the time he was being transported. The hospital put the time of death at 6: 30 p.m., but would release no further information.

Musiani, who owns Angelo's Restaurant in Ocean City, said Agnew and his wife dined there Sunday, and the former vice president ate his customary linguine with white clam sauce.

He said Agnew did not appear tired, or bruised, or thinner than usual -- all possible symptoms of leukemia. "He looked like an athletic person," he said.

Bob Layton, who played tennis regularly with the former vice president, said Agnew had complained of stomach cramps but was up "bright and early" for tennis Saturday. He had returned from a weeklong overseas business trip the night before and driven all the way from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

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