JFK Had Intense Back Pain. It May Have Helped Kill Him

Experts point out his stiff back brace may have kept him from bending to avoid fatal bullet
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 22, 2017 9:59 AM CST
Updated Nov 26, 2017 6:41 AM CST
JFK Was Felled by a Bullet, but His Bad Back Didn't Help
In this Oct. 22, 1962, file photo, President John F. Kennedy makes a national television speech from Washington.   (AP Photo)

Per the currently accepted narrative, the first bullet to hit John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, wasn't the one that fatally injured him. It was Lee Harvey Oswald's second shot to the head that ended the president's life, and some are now saying a medical problem Kennedy suffered from may have contributed to his own death: his chronic, debilitating back pain, CNN reports. Spinal neurosurgeon Dr. Thomas Pait assembled research on JFK's lumbar woes—which stretch back to his football-playing days at Harvard and led him to undergo four "largely unsuccessful surgeries"—into a paper recently published in the Journal of Neurosurgery. In it, he ties JFK's death to a possible inability to duck down after Oswald's first bullet, all because he was wearing a stiff, "tightly laced" back brace with a figure-eight Ace bandage wrapped around it that kept him locked in an upright position.

"If you have that brace all the way up your chest, above your nipples, and real tight, are you going to be able to bend forward?" Pait notes. CNN and other outlets have covered how important it was for JFK to keep up his illusion of vitality, even though Pait writes he was "patently unhealthy." JFK started using the brace to help support his spine and alleviate pain, but by the early '60s, Dr. Hans Kraus wanted to wean him off it, fearing his overreliance was causing his muscles to atrophy. "When I come back from Dallas, I'll get out of the brace, but I gotta wear it for this trip. I gotta look good," Pait says Kennedy told Kraus before his ill-fated trip. "It is certainly well within the realm of possibility that Kennedy's augmented canvas corset ... played a role in setting up Oswald's final shot," the JAMA paper notes. CNN's take here, including the pain relief JFK sought from "Dr. Feelgood." (An ex-Secret Service agent shared his recollection of Jackie Kennedy trying to save a piece of her husband's skull.)

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