Former President George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Houston

Former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, left, former President George H.W. Bush, center, and former Secretary of State James Baker, right, visit before having lunch Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, in Houston. Gorbachev was in Houston to speak at the Brilliant Lecture Series. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
November 29, 2012 3:09:05 PM PST
Former President George H.W. Bush is at Houston's Methodist Hospital after being treated for bronchitis. He has been in the hospital since the day after Thanksgiving. The former president was sick with a cough a few days before that, but he is doing well.

His spokesman tells us that if it were up to the former president he'd already be out of the hospital and home.

"He's doing great. He hopes to be out by the weekend. They're expecting that. Spirits are high. It's just that he's got this nagging cough that won't go away. They successfully treated the bronchitis that kind of set in with a vengeance late last week," said spokesperson Jim McGrath.

President Bush's physician says he is sitting up, moving and walking as much as he can to help his recovery.

"This was never a serious or life-threatening situation," Dr. Amy Mynderse said. "We simply wanted to prevent the progression of the disease into pneumonia, which is possible in any patient at this age."

Dr. Mynderse says she is surprised at how quickly President Bush has recovered from his illness.

President Bush, 88, is in stable condition, and is expected to be released within the next 72 hours, according to McGrath.

Former president's age a factor

As you may know, President Bush does suffer from Parkinson's disease in his legs and he spends almost all of his time in either a scooter or wheelchair. But this illness is unrelated to that. And for 88 years old, he keeps a pretty busy schedule, even taking in a Texans game just a few weeks ago.

The former president's age is one reason why doctors would be so concerned. Breathing problems can get very complicated in people in their 80s. And doctors say they're more susceptible to bronchitis, which is an inflammation in the airway which causes coughing and sometimes shortness of breath.

There are two medical reasons that doctors would be extra cautious in treating bronchitis in the former president. One is his age.

"As you get older, your lung function decreases a little bit and your immune function decreases a little bit and it makes you more prone to bronchitis," said Dr. Nasiya Ahmed, UT Health geriatrician.

The second reason doctors are extra careful with President Bush is that he has vascular Parkinson's disease. That has made him dependent on a scooter and not being able to move around much can make breathing problems like bronchitis more serious.

"They are more likely to have respiratory problems and it's more difficult for them to recover from bronchitis or pneumonia," said Dr. Joseph Jankovic, Director of the Baylor U. Parkinson's Disease Center.

Dr. Jankovic is a national expert on Parkinson's. He says President Bush has a milder form of Parkinson's, but it can still cause muscle stiffness in the chest that can make it harder to overcome respiratory illnesses.

"Because they have trouble expanding their chest and lung capacity that is needed for fast recovery from any kind of respiratory illness," he said.

"The concern is that you can't take deep breaths more than anything else so it's important to take deep breaths and be up walking around," said Dr. Ahmed.

In the hospital, bronchitis patients typically get antibiotics and fluids. The goal is to make sure that bronchitis doesn't develop into pneumonia. The vascular Parkinson's that he has does not get worse like regular Parkinson's. So once President Bush is over the bronchitis, doctors say there's no reason he can't do what he wants -- even skydiving if that's what he wants to do.

"As long as they stay out of trouble and don't fall, they can generally do quite well," said Dr. Jankovic.

Bronchitis is usually caused by a virus, often a flu virus. But sometimes it can be caused by a bacterial infection. Many people throw it off in two or three days. But it can last longer when people aren't able to get up and move around easily.

Many of you have been responding to the news of the former president's hospitalization on our Facebook page, passing along prayers and well wishes for the family. You too can join the conversation and check for the latest developments there.

Stay with ABC13 Eyewitness News for the latest on this developing story.


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