White House physician Dr. Sean Conley will have to find a new patient to give wildly optimistic press conferences about.
Conley, who briefly drew national attention with a series of curiously glowing updates about Donald Trump’s health after the president contracted the novel coronavirus last year, is heading to that big private practice in the sky. According to CNN, he will be replaced by Biden’s longtime personal physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor.
While the former president was hospitalized, suffering from a high fever, and receiving supplemental oxygen at Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital in October 2020, Conley gave statements to the press that he later admitted reflected the “upbeat attitude of the team” and Trump’s desire to convey strength rather than medical reality. He later cleared the president to leave isolation and return to the White House, saying his decision was in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, though without being fully transparent about whether Trump was still experiencing symptoms or whether he had received a negative test for the virus.
Trump claimed that he had received “pretty routine” treatment for the virus (in fact, the president got cutting-edge treatment, such as an experimental serum) and that he was now “immune” and unable to infect others. At the time, there was a lack of scientific consensus on how long the immune system remained resilient against the virus post-infection, though a study published this month in Science indicated it may be at least eight months.
The president also said he was taking hydroxychloroquine—an antimalarial drug his administration touted as a potential miracle cure for the novel coronavirus before it was later confirmed to be useless as a treatment—under Conley’s direction. (While its use in treatment was unsupported by anything other than anecdotal evidence at the time, Trump also said he was taking the drug to prevent contracting the virus, a use for which no scientific support existed whatsoever.) Conley later issued a letter stating he had “numerous discussions” with Trump concerning the drug before agreeing “the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.” Conley never actually confirmed he wrote the president a prescription for hydroxychloroquine.
According to CNN, Conley was seen departing the White House alongside Trump when he flew to Florida on Biden’s inauguration day. It’s nowhere near unusual for an incoming president to select a new candidate for the role, though some previous White House physicians have lasted multiple administrations.
Conley’s predecessor in the position, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, was appointed in 2013 under the Obama administration, becoming one of the few Obama-era staff to outlast the transfer of power to Trump. (It may have helped that Trump’s longtime doctor, the eccentric Dr. Harold Bornstein, was widely ridiculed for a 2015 letter saying Trump would be the “healthiest individual ever elected” to the presidency.)
Jackson departed in 2018 when Trump nominated him for Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Jackson’s nomination was derailed after Senate Democrats issued a report, citing nearly two dozen of his then-current or former colleagues in the White House medical unit, saying Jackson had drank on the job and rubber-stamped powerful prescriptions to White House personnel so often they nicknamed him “the candy man.” Jackson was later elected to Congress as a Republican in Texas.
According to CNN, O’Connor is a retired U.S. Army colonel who served in the branch’s airborne, Rangers, and Special Operations Command units. Both he and Conley are osteopaths, which is essentially equivalent to a standard MD with extra training in musculoskeletal health; at least by reputation, osteopaths may take a more holistic approach to medicine than other practitioners.
O’Connor proclaimed Biden, who at 78 set an age record for presidents taking their first oath of office, as “healthy” and “vigorous” in 2019. O’Connor stated Biden was being treated for several conditions, including atrial fibrillation, acid reflux, and allergies, and that the president had completely recovered from brain aneurysms in 1988 with no evidence of recurrence.