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Fact Check: Did Joe Biden Really Have Brain Surgery?



As we get closer to Election Day (make sure you’re registered to vote, BTW!), it’s pretty likely that we’ll see more and more political ads and opinion pieces that attempt to promote one candidate while discrediting the other. That’s how it’s been for pretty much ever, after all. In fact, it’s likely you’ve already seen plenty of content vilifying either Donald Trump or presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden — or praising them!

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One reason some people offer for not wanting to support Joe Biden is because they think he's had brain surgery. But is it actually true that former Vice President Joe Biden had brain surgery? Here’s what we know.

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Did Joe Biden have brain surgery?

In short, yes. Joe Biden did indeed undergo brain surgery on two occasions, both in 1988. In February of that year, he suffered from several episodes of increasingly severe neck pain. According to The New York Times, he attributed the pain to a pinched nerve and a viral infection. 

One day, while he was alone in a hotel room, Biden felt a sharp, stabbing pain at the back of his neck. In his autobiography, Promises to Keep, Biden wrote that the pain was like nothing he had ever experienced and that he lay unconscious on the floor for five hours after it occurred. The next day, he went into a Delaware hospital for testing and was quickly rushed to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. 

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There, he underwent a lifesaving, six-hour surgical procedure to fix an aneurysm that had begun leaking at the base of his brain. In May of 1988, Biden underwent a second operation to repair another aneurysm on the opposite side of his brain. This second aneurysm had not caused any symptoms but was at risk of bursting.

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Joe and Jill Biden in 1988.

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During the 2008 presidential race (in which Biden was running for vice president), Dr. Eisold, the Capitol physician, said that Biden had “recovered fully without continued effects” from the aneurysms he had experienced 20 years prior. Further medical documentation revealed that he had relatively minor health problems in 2008, including chronic sinusitis and allergies.

Fast forward to the current presidential race, where some people are wondering whether Biden’s brain surgeries could indicate that he is not a good fit for the job. One person who felt comfortable weighing in on that question was Dr. Neal Kassell — Joe Biden’s former brain surgeon.

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In a 2019 interview, Dr. Kassell said that Biden did not suffer any brain damage from the aneurysms (or the surgeries) that could come back to haunt him now, decades later. “He is every bit as sharp as he was 31 years ago. I haven’t seen any change,” Dr. Kassell said. “I can tell you with absolute certainty that he had no brain damage, either from the hemorrhage or from the operations that he had. There was no damage whatsoever.”

He then went one step further, saying about his vote in the upcoming election: “I am going to vote for the candidate who I am absolutely certain has a brain that is functioning. And that narrows it down exactly to one.” That may just be one man’s opinion, but when that man is a literal brain surgeon, we’re rather inclined to listen to it.

Election Day is Nov. 3. Register to vote at vote.gov and head to your state’s board of elections for details on requesting a mail-in or absentee ballot.

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