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John Fetterman treated at Lancaster hospital after suffering stroke during Senate campaign

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman visits with people attending a Democratic Party event for candidates to meet and collect signatures for ballot petitions for the upcoming Pennsylvania primary election, at the Steamfitters Technology Center in Harmony, Pa.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman visits with people attending a Democratic Party event for candidates to meet and collect signatures for ballot petitions for the upcoming Pennsylvania primary election, at the Steamfitters Technology Center in Harmony, Pa.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. and U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman is being treated for a stroke at a hospital in Lancaster, but he said he is "on his way to a full recovery" and will not let the episode derail his campaign.

In a statement Sunday, Fetterman said he had been hospitalized all weekend after suffering what he described as a stroke caused by a clot from his heart during an episode of atrial fibrillation two days earlier.

Doctors have advised him that he suffered no cognitive damage, Fetterman said in his statement. The episode will not affect his campaign for U.S. Senate, he said, adding that he is "still on track to win this primary on Tuesday."

“Feeling good, all things considered,” Fetterman said in a text message to The Associated Press.

Still, the stunning revelation, two days before Pennsylvania’s primary, created a cloud of uncertainty over the Democratic front-runner’s candidacy in what may be one of the party’s best Senate pickup opportunities.

A Democrat from Braddock in suburban Pittsburgh, Fetterman, 52, released this statement from Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital, where he remained under observation Sunday:

“On Friday, I wasn’t feeling well, so I went to the hospital to get checked out. I didn’t want to go — I didn’t think I had to — but [his wife] Gisele insisted, and as usual, she was right. I hadn't been feeling well but was so focused on the campaign that I ignored the signs and just kept going.

"On Friday it finally caught up with me. I had a stroke that was caused by a clot from my heart being in an A-fib rhythm for too long. Fortunately, Gisele spotted the symptoms and got me to the hospital within minutes. The amazing doctors here were able to quickly and completely remove the clot, reversing the stroke, they got my heart under control as well. It's a good reminder to listen to your body and be aware of the signs.

“The good news is I’m feeling much better, and the doctors tell me I didn’t suffer any cognitive damage. I’m well on my way to a full recovery. So I have a lot to be thankful for. They’re keeping me here for now for observation, but I should be out of here sometime soon.

The doctors have assured me that I’ll be able to get back on the trail, but first I need to take a minute, get some rest, and recover. There’s so much at stake in this race, and I’m going to be ready for the hard fight ahead."

The Fettermans also released a video — describing the episode as "a little bump" — from the hospital on Sunday.

Atrial fibrillation is a type of abnormal heartbeat caused by extremely fast and irregular beats from the upper chambers of the heart.

Questions about Fetterman's health began to escalate on social media after he canceled scheduled public appearances during the weekend.

While thousands of early votes have already been cast, Pennsylvania Democrats on Tuesday will pick their general election nominee from a four-person field that features Fetterman, three-term U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and Jenkintown Borough Council member and IT specialist Alex Khalil.

Fetterman, who comes from the party's progressive wing, has led in polls and fundraising — $16 million, with $1.9 million in cash on hand — even though the party's establishment has rallied around Lamb.

Despite that support, Lamb struggled to reach voters or even to pierce Fetterman’s standing with primary voters.

In a tweet Sunday, Lamb said he learned of Fetterman's stroke from a live television report, adding that he and his wife, Hayley, "are keeping John and his family in our prayers and wishing him a full and speedy recovery."

Kenyatta and Khalil, Fetterman's other Democratic opponents in Tuesday's primary, also tweeted good wishes for his recovery.

Candidates in the crowded Republican field vying for the Senate seat — among them Berks County businessman Jeff Bartos, former hedge fund manager Dave McCormick and former ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands — and Gov. Tom Wolf weighed in as well to offer prayers and wish Fetterman a smooth recovery.

"I have cared for atrial fibrillation patients and witnessed the miracles of modern medicine in the treatment of strokes, so I am thankful that you received care so quickly," Dr. Mehmet Oz said in his tweet. "My whole family is praying for your speedy recovery."

Fetterman became Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor in 2019 and is serving his first term in that office. From 2006-2019, he was the mayor of Braddock, a former steel town of about 1,700 residents in the Monongahela River valley.

Fetterman, his wife and their three children still live in Braddock in a converted automobile dealership across from U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson plant. Bolstered by national media accounts of his efforts to reverse the area's decline, he served in that position until his successful run for lieutenant governor.

Fetterman, who is 6-foot-8, has been open about his push to lose weight in the past. He weighed in at more than 400 pounds before losing nearly 150 pounds in 2018.

WESA's Chris Potter and The Associated Press contributed.

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Cindi Lash