Doctor’s Notes Offer Closer Look at Sen. Fetterman’s Treatment Upon Release From Hospital

Doctor's notes say Fetterman had stopped eating and drinking
By Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje is a national, investigative journalist covering politics, wrongdoing, and the stories of everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas:
March 31, 2023Updated: April 3, 2023

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) was discharged on March 31 from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, where he was being treated for depression. Fetterman checked himself in for treatment on Feb. 15.

A week before that, he had been in George Washington University Hospital in Washington, with symptoms of lightheadedness, which was a concern because the Democratic senator had a stroke on the campaign trail the weekend before the May 2022 primary.

He was back in his hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania, on March 31, according to a statement from his staff.

Fetterman’s medical care in the neuropsychiatry unit was led by Dr. David Williamson, neuropsychiatry chief and medical director, who said in the statement that Fetterman’s depression is now in remission.

The Senate is in recess for the next two weeks. During that time, he’ll be with his family in Pennsylvania and return to Washington when the Senate session resumes on April 17, according to the statement.

“I am so happy to be home. I’m excited to be the father and husband I want to be, and the senator Pennsylvania deserves. Pennsylvanians have always had my back, and I will always have theirs,” Fetterman said in a statement from his communications team. “I am extremely grateful to the incredible team at Walter Reed. The care they provided changed my life.

“I will have more to say about this soon, but for now I want everyone to know that depression is treatable, and treatment works. This isn’t about politics—right now, there are people who are suffering with depression in red counties and blue counties. If you need help, please get help.”

During his hospitalization, media coverage was generally complimentary toward him for getting help and sharing his health issue publicly.

Doctor’s Notes

His team provided Fetterman’s doctor’s discharge report, offing more detail about Fetterman’s treatment.

Upon admission in February, Fetterman had severe symptoms of depression with low energy and motivation, minimal speech, poor sleep, slowed thinking, slowed movement, and feelings of guilt and worthlessness, but no suicidal ideation, according to the report.

His symptoms had progressively worsened over the preceding eight weeks, and he had stopped eating and taking fluids, causing him to develop low blood pressure, which potentially affected brain circulation. He was admitted on a voluntary basis.

The neuropsychiatry team worked with cardiology and neurology at Walter Reed to evaluate and treat the senator. They reviewed medical records and imaging studies from George Washington University Hospital and Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital and performed additional studies at Walter Reed. They saw no new stroke, consistent with the opinion at George Washington in February 2023.

“His neurological exam was stable compared with past assessments,” the report reads.

His cardiac echocardiogram showed improvement from last year, and there were no blood clots in the heart.

His blood pressure was low, likely due to poor hydration and weight loss. The cardiology team carefully changed medicines and reduced dosages while Fetterman’s depression was managed with medication therapies.

Over the subsequent weeks, Fetterman’s mood steadily improved. Sleep was restored, he ate well, and he rehydrated. Doctors started to see a better mood, brighter affect, and improved motivation, self-attitude, and engagement with others.

His treatment gradually produced remission of his depression. He learned about depression, read a book about it, and discussed it.

“He expressed a firm commitment to treatment over the long term,” the report reads.

Fetterman’s auditory processing abilities were evaluated and identified as mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss, both right and left.

He was fitted for hearing aids and worked with speech-language specialists.

“With improvement in his depression, improvement in the patient’s speech abilities was noticeable and we believe that significant continued improvement is likely with continued outpatient rehabilitation,” the report reads. “Fetterman has expressed a firm commitment to engaging in this rehabilitation process. His depression, now resolved, may have been a barrier to engagement.”

Doctors say he’s ready to return to his family, pursue outpatient treatment, and resume work.