John Fetterman Expected to Return to Senate ‘Soon,’ but No Specific Timeline Yet

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, takes the stage at an election night party in Pittsburgh, early Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

By Patrick Berkery

March 23, 2023

The first-term US Senator from Braddock has been receiving inpatient treatment for clinical depression since mid-February. He suffered a near-fatal stroke on the campaign trail last May.

A little more than five weeks after Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman checked himself into the hospital to receive inpatient treatment for clinical depression, his office said Thursday that he is expected to return soon to the chamber, although Democratic leaders declined to set a timeline.

Fetterman, 53, was weeks into his service in Washington and still recovering from the aftereffects of the stroke he had last May during his campaign when he checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Feb. 15.

Aides said at the time that Fetterman had not been his usual self for weeks. He was withdrawn, showing a disinterest in talking, eating and the usual banter with aides. Post-stroke depression is common and treatable, doctors say.

Asked about when Fetterman might return, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said only that Fetterman is recuperating.

“We want to give him the space to recuperate,” Schumer said at a Wednesday news conference. “He needs it, it’s fair, it’s right. There are other people in the Senate who have taken their time to recuperate but I’m confident he’s going to come back and be an outstanding and fine senator.”

Last month, Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle commended Fetterman, saying his openness about his struggles could help destigmatize mental health issues.

A spokesperson said Fetterman is getting better and that the recovery is going well.

“He’ll be back soon, at least over a week, but soon,” spokesperson Joe Calvello said Thursday.

Fetterman is receiving daily in-person briefings by chief of staff Adam Jentleson, Calvello said. 

The senator is reading the news and getting briefings, he said, while issuing statements through his office and sponsoring legislation. Aides are opening new regional offices in Pennsylvania.

After Fetterman checked in to Walter Reed, his office said he had experienced depression “off and on throughout his life,” but it had only become severe in recent weeks. The Capitol physician, Dr. Brian P. Monahan, recommended Fetterman’s hospitalization after conducting an evaluation, his office said then.

In the meantime, Fetterman’s aides and his wife, Gisele, have released photos of the senator smiling, being briefed or visiting with her and their three school-age children.

Fetterman, who had a stroke on the eve of the primary election last May, was hospitalized for two days in early February after he reported feeling lightheaded. Tests showed no signs of another stroke or seizure, and he returned to work several days later. 

Fetterman succeeded Republican Sen. Pat Toomey after a hard-fought contest against Republican nominee Mehmet Oz. He defeated the celebrity heart surgeon by 5 percentage points and flipped a seat that was key to Democrats holding the Senate majority. 

His campaign was derailed on May 13 when he suffered what he later called a near-fatal stroke. Fetterman underwent surgery to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator to manage two heart conditions, atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy. He refused to drop out and spent much of the remaining months of the campaign in recovery.

Oz’s campaign made an issue of whether Fetterman was honest about the effects of the stroke and whether he was fit to serve, openly mocking his health at times.

In an Associated Press profile just weeks after his victory, Fetterman was described as still suffering from auditory processing disorder, a stroke’s common aftereffect. The disorder can leave a person unable to speak fluidly and quickly process spoken conversation into meaning.

The effects of the stroke were apparent in Fetterman’s uneven performance during the fall campaign’s only debate. He struggled to complete sentences and jumbled words, causing concern among Democrats that his election was doomed.

Fetterman uses devices in conversations, meetings and congressional hearings that transcribe spoken words in real time.

On election night, he told cheering supporters he ran for “anyone that ever got knocked down that got back up.”

Fetterman was sworn in Jan. 3.

Post-stroke depression is also a common aftereffect, with 1 in 3 stroke patients experiencing it, and is treatable through antidepressant medication and counseling, doctors say.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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