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98-Year-Old Sen. Strom Thurmond Apparently Collapsed on Senate Floor

Aired October 2, 2001 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Ninety-eight-year-old Republican Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina apparently in the past 30 minutes collapsed on the Senate floor. His office telling CNN, he was taken to a local hospital after complaining of chest pains.

Kate Snow by telephone in Washington.

Kate, what have you found out?

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, I'm standing next to the Senate floor inside the Capitol building, I can tell you that within the last 15 minutes, Senator Thurmond was taken off the floor. He was feeling faint. I spoke with Senator Trent Lott, the Republican leader here, and asked him directly, did he collapse? Did he fall down? Senator Lott said no, he didn't fall down. He just was feeling faint, requested that a doctor come in. They called in the Capitol doctor. The doctor looked him over, along with some other EMS workers who were brought in. They checked him out on the floor of the Senate.

And also Senator Bill Frist, who of course is the only doctor serving in the Senate, was also there by his side. I'm told that he has since then been taken out in a wheelchair.

About 10 minutes ago, we got a report -- we're not being allowed right next to Senate here, but we have report he went out in wheelchair, was waving as went out, and was speaking, was fully conscious. Senator Lott saying focused, speaking of the 98-year-old senator.

No further report on exactly where he is headed now. But we do anticipate he's likely headed to a hospital -- Bill.

HEMMER: Kate, you mentioned two really good things, though, because this somewhat contradicts what we had 15 minutes ago. Taken out in wheelchair, did not collapse, jut complained about feeling faint and was waving on his way out. That would possibly portend good news for his health. ".

SNOW: Correct. Correct. And Senator Lott had a smile on face when he talked with us, and seemed to indicate there was no reason for great concern. Of course they will check him over and see what the problem was. HEMMER: And, Kate, as many people know, if you're from South Carolina or travel through that area, this man is so well-known back in his home state, the Palmetto State, so many highways, and bridges and high schools named after this senator. Take us a bit more about his current health, though. He's been in frail condition. Many people expressed concerns about his health serving in the U.S. Senate at this time. What do you gather from those who knows him best?

SNOW: Well, he is a legend around here, Bill. He is clearly the oldest serving senator in the U.S. Senate. As you mentioned, he's 98 years old. He's been in frail health. It's been noticeable. When you see him walking through the hallways, he's always supported by at least two aides. Generally about four aides surrounding him to get him from place to place.

So it's no secret that he's not in the best of health, but again, he's a popular figure, and people obviously hopeful that he will come out OK.

HEMMER: Gee, Kate, an incredible storied history, too: a Former veteran of the U.S. Army, helped serve with the allied forces upon the landing in Normandy back in D-Day, June 1944.

Jonathan Karl also on the Hill.

John, you've been talking to members of his staff. What have you found out?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, members of his staff say that the had this spell that's been described as a fainting. His staff also used the word collapse when we first spoke to them. They said he would be taken to Walter Reed Hospital, which is where he had been taken in the past when he's had situations similar to this. And there have been a few over the last year or so.

But I've spoke to one of the senators who was on the floor when this happened, and they said when he had this spell, that somebody went over to take his pulse, and at first, they had a hard time finding a pulse. They had feared that he had in fact died, and they said that he very quickly snapped back. One of the people on the scene there to help him out was Dr. Bill Frist, who of course is a senator from Tennessee, and a doctor, a heart surgeon, in fact. But they were very concerned. They did not see any sign of life.

And another senator said, who was there on the floor at the time, said they believe his pulse rate was down to about eight a minute. But again, it quickly got back, and you've heard Kate talk about his kind of somewhat triumphant exit off the floor. They did say initially off the floor on a stretcher. But several said he had his arms raised, and another senator close to Thurmond said that he was very upset that he was being taken away. He didn't feel that he even needed to be taken away. He felt that he was going to be just fine. Strom Thurmond, 98 years old, has been one of the most resilient people in politics. And his political obit has been written many, many times, and he's always managed to bounce back, and his office saying this is another case where had a spell and is bouncing back. HEMMER: And, Jonathan, quickly, not sure what you know about his political future at 98 years old. Has he talked about retiring, even in the slightest sense, just yet?

KARL: Yes, he actually has. He said that he wants to finish out his term, which will end in January of 2003. At that point, Bill, he will be 100 years old. And he has made it very clear that he intends to do that and to serve out his term, continuing that record of being the longest serving U.S. senator in American history, and also the oldest person ever to United States Senate. And he had made clear that at 100 years old, Strom Thurmond not running for re-election. He made that clear last time around.

HEMMER: All right, Jonathan, Jonathan Karl. An amazing history indeed. Thanks much to you and Kate Snow.

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