Eisenhower’s staff chose to “play down the seriousness of the unfolding events” at first,” Lee added. But more information started to come out over time, especially once Jim Hagerty, a reporter the White House trusted, pushed for more transparency. Another key figure who helped improve communication was cardiologist Paul Dudley White, “who was arguably the most respected physician in the country.”
“White had been selected as an external consultant by the team of military doctors caring for Eisenhower,” Lee explained. “He and his wife had been on their way to a dinner party in Boston when they heard the news about Eisenhower’s heart attack on the radio. Within a few hours, the surgeon general tracked him down and asked him to fly to Denver in the morning.”
White would go on to give a “breathtaking” press conference, one that included detailed information about AMIs many Americans simply did not know at the time. This moment is now recognized as a true game-changer for Eisenhower—and for the nation’s understanding of heart attacks as a whole. It helped the public regain its trust in the information it was receiving from the White House, and it showed that such trust must earned—it can’t just “be created abruptly during a crisis.”
According to Lee, the healthcare team presently treating Trump could learn a lot from this famous moment in history when it comes to communicating with the public about serious health issues. Transparency, honesty and optimism can go a long way toward helping a concerned nation cope with uncertainty.
“Epitomizing expertise, empathy and judgment, White found a way to play the role of physician for not just the patient but also the country: He eased fears, provided accurate information and defined a credible path forward for both,” Lee concluded. “And if he were doing so in 2020, he would do it wearing a mask.”
Lee’s thorough assessment is available in full here.