What Disease Unites the Romney and Obama Clans (and Newt Gingrich too)?

In 1997 Mitt Romney and his wife Ann, 48, knew that there was something seriously wrong with her.

She couldn’t feel pinpricks in her foot. She couldn’t keep her balance. She couldn’t touch her nose with her eyes closed.

When her youngest of five sons Craig, 17, found out his Mom’s diagnosis, he cried because he thought his Mom was going to die.  And Ann temporarily felt that she would rather die from cancer than be the way that she was. She treated her condition with yoga, Pilates, reflexology, acupuncture and diet. Her childhood love of horses was rekindled and riding both improved her mobility and boosted her spirits.

The figure below shows three generations of the Romney family tree and where Ann and her illness fit in. A person’s family medical history can be important to their health, and we’re showing the Romney and Obama family trees to stress this point.

When Michelle Obama was just a little girl, she watched her father Fraser Robinson III struggle to get dressed in the morning and then walk to work at the City of Chicago water plant using two canes. Her Dad slowly became sicker and sicker and finally passed away in 1991 before he could see Michelle get married to a future President of the United States. In 2008, Mrs. Obama reflected back on her father’s struggles and said:

My Dad was our rock…our provider, our champion, our hero…if he was in pain, he never let on. He never stopped smiling and laughing — even while struggling to button his shirt, even while using two canes to get himself across the room to give my Mom a kiss. He just woke up a little earlier, and worked a little harder.

The figure above shows three generations of Mrs. Obama’s family (President Obama’s family tree is here). The photo is of Mrs. Obama’s parents, Fraser Robinson III and Marian Robinson, with their children, Craig and Michelle.

Fraser Robinson and Ann Romney suffered from the same disease. Newt Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, has this disease too. And so does Montel Williams who treats his symptoms with medical marijuana. One of the Real Housewives of D.C., Michaele Salahie, is also affected. Rock legend Captain Beefheart died from complications of this disease at the age of 69.

Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system

The symptoms of MS, such as fatigue, numbness, tingling sensations, blurred vision and lack of coordination, are not specific to this disease often making it difficult to diagnose. Most patients experience their first symptoms of MS between the ages of 20 and 50, MS affects about 1 in 700 people and the disease is three times more common in women than in men. A poorly-understood combination of environmental and genetic factors lead to this disease. There is no way to prevent or cure MS but there are treatments that can slow the progression of the disease and relieve the symptoms.

Questions for the Candidates’ Debates

  • Currently there are about two dozen clinical research trials studying the potential of stem cell transplantation to treat MS. Do you support this research?
  • In 2012, the U.S. National Institutes of Health will spend $121 million on MS research. Is this too much money, not enough or just about the right amount of funding?
  • Medical marijuana is proved effective in relieving some of the symptoms of MS and other neurological diseases, particularly in those patients who are not helped by other therapies. Should the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug thus allowing doctors to prescribe it to treat MS, AIDS, side effects of chemotherapy and other diseases and conditions?

Additional sources for this article

Your Family History is Important to Your Health

Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics

The Real Romney

Fraser Robinson III ~ Michelle Obama’s Father

Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.


  1. Tommy Walker

    February 11, 2012 at 11:19 am

    I didn’t know that about Newt’s wife/wives ! And to be honest, I’m sure I’ve ever really known how MS manifested itself, so thank you for writing such an informative article.

    As far as the questions at the end go, I think the stem cell transplant research is a good idea, the question is if it proves to be successful how much longer will it take where we’re in “The Island” scenario where we raise fully matured clones to harvest their organs?

    135 million isn’t enough, but no amount of money is ever enough when it comes to medical research. Parkinson’s, AIDS, and other foundations always need more.

    DEA is dumb, they should decriminalize marijuana especially for patients who are suffering.

    • shelley

      July 8, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      They use autologous stem cells. Google it if you do not know what what that means.

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