rer. Neal Kassell was standing by the operating room door when then-Sen. Joe Biden was taken in for a second aneurysm surgery in May 1988.
Biden got up from the stretcher and grabbed the neurosurgeon’s arm.
“He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Doc, do a good job because someday I’ll be president,” Kassell told The Daily Beast on Saturday, after his former patient’s prediction came true.
Biden climbed onto the stretcher in the operating room at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, DC, and Kassell followed after Biden had been anesthetized for his second microsurgical craniotomy.
The first operation took place in February, after a CT scan located two aneurysms at the base of Biden’s brain, the larger on the right, the smaller on the left. Kassell and another neurosurgeon, Dr. Eugene George, decided to start with the bigger one. It was likely to erupt at any time, with possibly fatal results.
Biden had withdrawn from the 1987 Democratic presidential nomination race five months earlier. His chances of surviving this first operation and thus have any future had been estimated at only 50-50.
The first operation began with a surgical team cutting a hole in the top of Biden’s skull and removing the bone plug as if it were, as Kassell later described, “from the top of a cookie jar. “. Kassell then used a microscope to guide a probe between the brain and the skull. He located the balloon artery and was applying a spring clip to it when his view through the microscope was suddenly blocked with blood.
The aneurysm had burst and Biden could very well have died on the table if blood had been injected into his brain. Instead, it went the other way around, and Kassell was able to clean the lens and finish attaching the clip before there was any damage.
In the recovery room, Biden was able to wiggle his fingers and toes and calculate from a wall clock that the operation had taken nine hours. He would later write that he was close enough to death to realize that “a single moment of failure – as public and hurtful as the end of my presidential campaign – could not determine my epitaph.”
By the time of the second operation three months later, Biden was once again ready to turn fate into fate. The moment came when he looked into Kassell’s eyes and made the prediction that some might have assumed to be at least partly joking.
Biden ran for the Democratic nomination in 2008, dropped out – and became Barack Obama’s vice president in 2009. He could have run for president again in 2016 had he not yet been. annoyed by the death of his son Beau Biden of brain cancer in Walter Reed the year. before.
Joe instead focused on launching the White House Cancer Moonshot initiative, and Kassell agreed to be a part of his group Blue Ribbon. Hillary Clinton ran for president, was nominated, and lost to Donald Trump.
When the pandemic struck, Kassell was one of the thousands of doctors who were deeply offended and alarmed by Trump’s anti-science approach. Trump has become more aggressively ignorant as nearly a quarter of a million Americans have died from COVID-19.
“Unimaginable,” Kassell told The Daily Beast.
Thanks in part to Kassell, Biden was there to run another presidential run. He cited science and wore a mask and sought to preserve social distancing as he made the Democratic nomination.
Donald Trump Jr. and his ilk cited Biden’s past brain surgeries as proof he was not up to the job. Kassell retorted that he had seen Biden’s brain and that it was fine; the clips still in his brain actually made it less likely that those arteries would rupture.
Meanwhile, Trump has learned nothing after catching COVID-19 and spending a brief stay at Walter Reed. He remained indifferent to the ever-growing number of unlucky souls who did not recover like him. He announced the pandemic was almost over, saying “we’re turning a round” even as the county saw a record spike in cases.
But such a depressing number of Americans have always supported him that the first results on election day raised the possibility that he would get another term before Biden stepped down.
On Saturday, four days after an election initially too close to be called, several TV stations declared Biden the winner. Trump had proved incapable of rejecting Biden’s votes as easily as he had rejected COVID-19 cases. Those of us who had dreaded Trump’s second term welcomed what looked like a deliverance as his favorite poet, Seamus Heaney, described in a verse written for a Northern Ireland theater company in 1990.
“The story says do not hope
On this side of the tomb.
But then once in a lifetime
The long-awaited tidal wave
Justice can arise.
And hope and history rhyme.
The rumor that justice had indeed risen to combine hope and history reached Kassell at home on Saturday. His daughter, Nicole Kassell, an Emmy-winning director for HBO Guardians, sent her father a video of the spontaneous celebrations near her home in Harlem. The cars honked. People were applauding and dancing in the streets.
“Pandemonium,” the doctor said approvingly.
Dr Kassell told the Daily Beast what Biden told him that day 32 years ago as he was transported for the second brain operation. The Daily Beast noted that the successful efforts of Kassell and his surgical team to treat the two aneurysms had kept Biden alive. And that now means we’ll have a new president who actually tackles the pandemic.
Kassell responded with a line from the Bible.
“Save a life, you save the world.”
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