JFK: Family Man

JFK: Family Man

jfk Apr 1, 2024

JFK was afflicted by many illnesses throughout his life, including a rare autoimmune adrenal condition. Despite constant pain, he pursued big dreams…like becoming President of the United States. As a member of the boisterous Kennedy clan, his no-quit attitude, avid love of learning, and resounding positivity and hopefulness were characteristics encouraged by his family.

You know his name. You might even know his legacy. But while John F. Kennedy the American President got stuff done during 1,036 days in office—like negotiating the avoidance of nuclear decimation, advocating for civil rights, challenging the USA to go to the moon, and inspiring thousands of young Americans to join the Peace Corps—he spent less than three full years achieving any of it. In truth, his stint in office was a tiny chapter in the book of JFK. For those privy to the full story of his character arc, the scale of his accomplishments is a complete mindbend.

In the beginning, our man John’s fate looked bleak. Baby boy Kennedy was born ill and fought tooth and nail to cling to life. Things didn’t improve as he grew. Not once or twice, but four times throughout his life his Catholic parents called in the family priest to administer last rites. Four times, John pulled through. Not many people in his time knew the extent to which his many illnesses and conditions impacted his life. But today, we have a more complete idea of the painful implications of his medical history.

A Look at JFK’s Medical History (from Birth to Presidency)

  • Infancy Infection after infection causes John’s parents to wonder if their new baby will survive.
  • Age 2 Scarlet fever puts John in the hospital for months, fighting for his life.
  • Ages 2–12 Measles, mumps, whooping cough, bronchitis, chicken pox, appendicitis, and other nasty infections are part of John’s day-to-day struggles. 
  • Age 16 John’s doctors wonder if he might have celiac disease, or maybe leukemia.
  • College John’s back is killing him, and after one of his spinal disks slips during a tennis match, the pain seems long-term.
  • WWII Despite failing his physical, John goes to war and is quickly made a naval captain. During a collision with an enemy ship his back is further injured, but it doesn’t stop him from heroically saving a member of his crew by dragging him miles through the water to shore. Shortly after this ordeal, John gets a life-changing diagnosis: osteoporosis of the spine. His first back surgery follows.
  • House of Reps John is serving in the House of Representatives by the time his doctors finally realize what his real condition is: Addison’s disease. 
  • 1950 to 1960 Three more back surgeries, one which almost kills him, and countless hospital trips in this decade indicate the complications of living with Addison’s. By the end of the period, his back is nearly immobile and he often walks with crutches. Constant pain has literally changed his brain cells, resulting in something called centralized pain: pain that never ceases, only fluctuates. 

Challenged by all that, how in the world was John F. Kennedy even able to campaign for President, let alone win and establish a worldwide reputation as a charming, hopeful, and powerful leader of the USA? 

It was with the discovery and help of leading pain expert Dr. Janet Travell that John was able to finally escape the throes of centralized pain and enter into a new world of possibility. Her progressive plan slowly enabled him to regain lost mobility and even pursue his dream of running for President. With her help and through dedicated effort, he missed only one day of work over his entire term.

The challenges posed by his body could have led John down a very different path. Instead, it was within the fire of adversity that John forged himself. All that time spent recovering from this illness or that? He spent it reading and writing. By the time he became President, John could read an amazing 1,200 words per minute. His Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Profiles in Courage, was written on bed rest after one of his back surgeries. And as any student of his Presidential speeches can attest, they read more like poetry or great literature than Oval Office remarks. JFK didn’t bow to the agony of nearly constant pain; he reached toward the light of knowledge to combat it. In doing so, he armed himself as a warrior. That well-fought aplomb created a man who generations revered long after death.

A Family Man

You’ve probably heard the common adage, or some version of it, that the people you spend the most time with will influence the person you become. For many, family members make up the bulk of our influences, especially through childhood.

The Kennedy family had a special reputation for being big, tight, and competitive. There’s no doubt that John was influenced by his family: from his mother, Rose, he developed a love of reading and history; from his father, Joseph, he received political savvy and a burning desire to make something of himself; in his older brother Joe, he had a close companion and a role model; and with his marriage to Jackie, he gained a loving, poised wife of great strength. 

John’s perseverance, aspirations, and positivity may have been entirely his own traits, but considering the internal challenges he faced, we think it’s more likely that they were influenced and supported by his family: those who cared for him during sickness, worried for him on his bad days, and encouraged him to never stop building his dreams. Being a Family Man could very well have been what drove John to survive all those years of pain, illness, and injury—with a smile and laugh at the ready. 

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There are as many dreams as there are people to come up with them. But some are more common than others. Fame, wealth, status, and longevity are typical dreams of many people. However, with age comes wisdom, and often our dreams become tempered the longer we live. Dreams of being

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