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Amid a back-and-forth over vegetables in the closely watched U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania, a spokesperson for Dr. Mehmet Oz suggested Tuesday that Lt. Gov. John Fetterman would not have had a stroke earlier this year if he had adhered to a healthier diet.
In a statement to Insider, Oz's senior communications adviser Rachel Tripp said, "If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn't have had a major stroke and wouldn't be in the position of having to lie about it constantly.”
In response, Fetterman posted a tweet Tuesday evening expressing his dismay over Tripp's remarks.
I had a stroke. I survived it. I'm truly so grateful to still be here today.
I know politics can be nasty, but even then, I could *never* imagine ridiculing someone for their health challenges. pic.twitter.com/0fJHESjt4l
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) August 24, 2022
Four days before the May primary, Fetterman’s campaign announced that he was in the hospital recovering from a stroke. On primary day, Fetterman, 52, underwent a procedure to have a pacemaker and defibrillator inserted, before returning to the campaign trail earlier this month.
In a statement issued during his recovery, Fetterman agreed with his doctor’s assessment that he should have taken better care of himself, saying, "Like so many others, and so many men in particular, I avoided going to the doctor, even though I knew I didn’t feel well. As a result, I almost died. I want to encourage others to not make the same mistake."
The campaign released a letter from Fetterman’s cardiologist, Dr. Ramesh Chandra, in which Chandra described the care given to Fetterman in the years leading up to his stroke. “I had prescribed medications along with improved diet and exercise and asked him to follow up again in the following months,” she wrote. “Instead, I did not see him again until yesterday, John did not go to any doctor for five years and did not continue taking his medications.”
Chandra concluded the letter by saying, “If [Fetterman] takes his medications, eats healthy, and exercises, if he does what I've told him, and I do believe that he is taking his recovery and his health very seriously this time, he should be able to campaign and serve in the U.S. Senate without a problem."
It is unclear what effect the Oz campaign’s decision to attack Fetterman’s dietary choices and resulting health complications will have on the Senate race. Pennsylvania ranks fifth of all U.S. states in total deaths from both strokes and heart disease, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Oz has been pilloried by his Democratic rival on social media, most notably over a video clip Oz posted in April about the price of what he called crudités, the French term for raw vegetable salads, that went viral last week. The Fetterman campaign attacked Oz for being out of touch with Pennsylvanians and said it had raised $500,000 in one day from its mocking response to the video.
Later in the week, the two got into an exchange over the number of homes Oz owns, as Fetterman continues to press his opponent on his wealth and his history of promoting questionable diet products on his popular syndicated television show. Oz’s decades-long residence in New Jersey has been a consistent through-line of Fetterman’s campaign. Before launching his campaign last year, Oz registered to vote at his in-laws in the Philadelphia area, where he received his MD and MBA at the University of Pennsylvania. The cardiothoracic surgeon and talk-show host has since purchased a home in the state, but the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that he has not yet moved in.
While Oz has lagged Fetterman in fundraising, he is still getting millions in support from Super PACs and can also dip into his personal fortune, which he disclosed earlier this year as being between $76 million and $300 million. Polling has shown Fetterman with double-digit leads — although one survey from a Republican-leaning group had the margin at only five points. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report recently moved its rating to lean Democrat in the race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey.
Back on Aug. 12, at his first campaign event since undergoing treatment for his stroke, Fetterman acknowledged the seriousness of the medical event.
“Thank you so much for being here tonight, thank you so much, because really, tonight is about being grateful, just grateful,” Fetterman said at the start of his remarks in Erie. “Three months ago, my life could have ended — it’s the truth. But I’m so grateful to be here tonight.”