Monday, November 18, 2013

Coverup on Faleomavaega Health Questions?

It has been almost a month now since Delegate Faleomavaega was stricken with some unrevealed ailment after arriving on an evening flight from Honolulu to Pago Pago on September 21 to attend a territorial summit on education organized by his sister, the local government’s director of education. After a day in LBJ hospital, medical authorities judged that local facilities were not adequate to treat him so he was evacuated by military transport to Hawaii, where he was admitted to Tripler Army Medical Center. But, since the onset of his condition and his evacuation, which were covered in several stories in the local media and one AP wire report that was carried by numerous outlets in the states, there has been a virtual news blackout on the 70-year-old politician’s condition or even what ails him.

 Save for two media “updates” written from statements handed out by his office, everything else has been a matter of speculation, because the delegate is not receiving visitors either. The most recent story carried in the Saturday, November 16 Samoa News suggests that Faleomavaega’s health situation is a lot more serious than his office has acknowledged and from here it could be construed that the local media is participating in a coverup. Neither Samoa News, the only general circulation daily newspaper, where his sister-in-law is a writer and editor, and the territory's representative to the Democratic National Committee, nor the only radio station that carries local news, has gone beyond what they have been told about Eni’s situation. All that Samoa News would say in its story over the weekend is that Faleomavaega is suffering from “an illness that his office has yet to make public,” while Radio KHJ-FM said absolutely nothing at all about the nature of his illness.

The day he was evacuated, Samoa News wrote “Faleomavaega’s Office in Washington D.C. in a statement yesterday morning reiterated that the Congressman, 'is not in a life-threatening situation' but didn’t provide any other details.” Yet in Saturday’s story, his office, while saying the delegate “is expected to make a full and complete recovery (language used in previous statements),” his office director told Talanei (KHJ’s internet line outlet) that “the congressman arrived at Tripler just in time to receive the care he needed. Since being at Tripler,” he continued, “the congressman has made significant progress in his recovery, although there were times when we were unsure of how this would all turn out.” So much for the "not life-threatening" line. Yet, none of this has been reported to the public and despite intense public interest and rumors, the media has not even speculated.

However, where the local media seems to be a bit “shy,” we will not be. Reading between the lines and looking at the language, we believe Faleomavaega has suffered a stroke. In saying he will be “moved” (suggesting it won’t be under his own power) to the Mainland for further “rehab” (a word associated with strokes and other conditions affecting one’s mobility) rather than “recuperation,” "convalescence" or “recovery,” it seems reasonable to conclude that he has suffered a stroke, although a massive heart attack is also a distinct possibility, since he had previously had had coronary disease that required bypass surgery.

As the years have progressed in his seemingly endless career, he has looked increasingly frail and there has been much speculation as to whether he is still physically up to the job. Although he is obese, there has been a marked weight loss in recent months but it has not looked like a healthy weight loss. In his most recent campaign for re-election, he even addressed his health issues head on to stave off rumors.  He admitted publicly that he had had a heart double by-pass and appendectomy, underwent a knee operation, had artificial lenses implanted in both eyes, and suffers from high blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes. He also admitted he likely was exposed to the chemical agent Dioxin found in Agent Orange while serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in the 1960s. Moreover, observers say the difficulty with which he walks suggests he also suffers from gout.

Regardless of all of his mounting ailments, he has not slowed the heavy pace of his foreign travels. Notwithstanding all the congressional reforms that have cut down outside funding sources for overseas travel and despite now serving in the minority and not having ready access to Foreign Affairs Committee travels funds, he seems constantly to be on the road, particularly to Asia. Whenever Congress is in recess, he is more likely to be found in Bangkok or Seoul than back home so it was ironic that he was stricken on a visit back to American Samoa than some exotic capital abroad. No wonder a 70-year old man constantly fighting jet lag racing through numerous time zones would be a candidate for a stroke.

There are legal safeguards for patient medical information and Samoan culture also respects personal privacy during times of illness, but the fact remains that he is a public servant and the public has a right to know what medical problems he has and what is prognosis is. Will he be convalescing for weeks, months or longer? Will American Samoa be left to fend for itself with no one representing the territory in Congress until his return? Most states have more than one representative and colleagues can pick up the slack. American Samoa does not have such luxury. Unless the media does their job, we are left to speculate.

 The statement from his office says he will be moved either to Utah (where his wife has lived for a number of years) or Washington, DC for rehabilitation. The least we can hope is to know where he will be going because that could provide a clue on his condition. If he were moved to Utah, he is likely he has a more serious condition than his office is letting on because in Utah the members of his LDS church could be expected to circle the wagons and keep the press at bay. That feat would be much harder to accomplish in Washington, DC, home of the world’s most aggressive media. If he were going to Washington, expect a shorter convalescence and a return to office sooner than later.

Stay tuned.

No comments: