Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman checked into a hospital on Feb. 15 to be treated for clinical depression following his recent stroke. Social media posts falsely claim that Fetterman is “brain dead” and that he hasn’t been seen in public. Fetterman has been shown working from the hospital in a March 6 tweet shared by his chief of staff.
Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman checked into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland on Feb. 15 to be treated for clinical depression several months after having a stroke. It was reported that he would be away from his Washington, D.C. office for several weeks.
In a Feb. 16 statement, Adam Jentleson, Fetterman’s chief of staff, said that while the Democratic senator “has experienced depression off and on throughout his life, it only became severe” in the weeks before he checked into the hospital.
Last year, Fetterman suffered from a stroke in May caused by a blood clot from his heart beating at an irregular rhythm for too long.
“The good news is I’m feeling much better, and the doctors tell me I didn’t suffer any cognitive damage. I’m well on my way to a full recovery,” Fetterman said in a press release on May 15.
Fetterman had surgery on May 17 to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator to manage his two heart conditions — atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy — that played a role in his stroke.
After the stroke, Fetterman has spoken about some of the side effects he has faced during his recovery, including an auditory processing disorder — struggling to understand what he hears and to speak clearly.
Post-stroke depression is a common aftereffect of a stroke and occurs in one in three stroke patients, according to a study published in Neurología.
Since his recent hospitalization, posts on social media have spread the false claim that Fetterman is brain-dead. Some take the claim a step further to suggest Fetterman is actually deceased.
“Is John fetterman brain dead or just plain dead?” read a post on Facebook.
Another post said, “Being told that Fetterman is essentially brain dead and it’s being hidden because keeping him in office until August 18th avoids a special election which Republicans would most certainly win.”
But the claim is false.
We reached out to Fetterman’s office for a response to the claim. It offered no official comment on the posts.
His office did share a March 17 tweet from Fetterman’s wife, Gisele, which shows a photo of Fetterman posing with her.
On March 6, Fetterman was also shown in photos on Twitter working on rail safety legislation and other business with his chief of staff Adam Jentleson while Fetterman is at Walter Reed.
“Productive morning with Senator Fetterman at Walter Reed discussing the rail safety legislation, Farm Bill and other Senate business. John is well on his way to recovery and wanted me to say how grateful he is for all the well wishes. He’s laser focused on PA & will be back soon,” read the caption of the tweet.
The rail safety legislation Fetterman was shown working on with Jentleson is a bipartisan bill cosponsored by Fetterman, Republican Sen. J. D. Vance of Ohio and several others to prevent train derailments similar to the recent accident in East Palestine, Ohio.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the same day that Fetterman has frequent hour-long morning meetings with his two top aides — Jentleson or senior advisor Bobby Maggio — who update Fetterman on issues at Capitol Hill and work with him on legislation.
“The staff tees up the big questions and the big issues for the boss, gets their feedback, and then goes back and executes based on their feedback. Major decisions do not get made without his awareness and input,” Jentleson said to the Inquirer.
If Fetterman leaves office before his six-year term ends, the governor can temporarily fill the vacancy “until the next regularly scheduled statewide general election, when a special election is held to fill the seat for the balance of the term,” according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
Update, April 4: Fetterman was released from Walter Reed on March 31, following a six-week treatment for depression. In an interview on CBS’ “Sunday Morning” on April 2, Fetterman said he can’t wait to “start making up any lost time.”
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llorca, G. Espárrago, et al. “Post-stroke depression: an update.” Neurología. Jan 2015
“Depression and Stroke.” American Stroke Association. Accessed 16 Mar 2023.
Drenon, Brandon. “John Fetterman: US Senate Democrat did not suffer new stroke.” BBC. 10 Feb 2023.
Burns, Dasha and Johnathan Allen. “Fetterman says his stroke recovery ‘changes everything’ but that he’s fit to serve as senator.” NBC News. 11 Oct 2022.
Levy, Marc and Michael Rubinkam. “‘I almost died,’ Fetterman says as Senate campaign heats up.” Associated Press. 6 Jun 2022.
Tamari, Jonathan. “John Fetterman sponsored a bill from the hospital. Here’s what he can and can’t do in the Senate during treatment.” Philadelphia Inquirer. 6 May 2023.