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Background: Fainting Incident

January 14, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST

TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: President Bush returned to a full work schedule this morning after briefly losing consciousness and fainting yesterday. The White House said the President gagged on a pretzel while watching a football game in the White House residence yesterday evening.

He later told aides he was alone in the room with only his dogs, Barney and Spot. The President told reporters today that he fell off the couch and was unconscious, but apparently only for a short time.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I hit the deck and… Woke up, and there was Barney and Spot showing a lot of concern. I didn’t realize what happened till I looked in the mirror. My glasses cut the side of my face.

GWEN IFILL: President Bush contacted a nurse five minutes later, was checked by a physician, and immediately underwent a series of examinations, including neurological tests and an electrocardiogram. All proved normal.

The President’s physician, Dr. Richard Tubb, said he could “not find any reason this would happen again.” Tubb said the pretzel went down the wrong way, causing the President to cough and triggering a common reaction known as vasovagal syncope. That occurs when a nerve called the vagus nerve near the brain stem sends a signal to the heart to slow the heart rate, leading to fainting and unconsciousness.

The President, who exercises regularly and who runs a seven- minute mile, is considered to be in terrific shape. Doctors say that due to his workouts, he does have a lower- than-normal pulse, and that may have contributed to the fainting. For his part, the President made light of the whole incident. Aboard Air Force One today, the President even sent a bag of pretzels to reporters. Then he joked about it at the start of a trade speech today at a John Deere plant in East Moline, Illinois.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I thought for a while, when they told me that I was going to receive a gift here, that old Chuck was going to bring a pretzel — (Laughter) — those kind that are easy to chew. (Laughter) If my mother is listening, mother, I should’ve listened to you: (Laughter) “Always chew your pretzels before you swallow.” (Cheers and applause)

GWEN IFILL: The President also said he was fighting a cold this weekend. His doctor said stress had nothing to do with the scare