UPDATED: 7:22 pm
SOMERVILLE — Gov. Christie was hospitalized for eight hours Thursday after suffering an asthma attack with light-headedness and shortness of breath on the way to a bill signing and press conference.
Christie, 48, who said he felt better, if not tired, after being released from Somerset Medical Center in Central New Jersey, never lost consciousness and planned to resume work on Friday.
“I was a little bit scared, but I was never passed out, inacapacitated,” Christie said at a 28-minute press conference outside the hospital.
Christie, who regularly speaks about using an inhaler every day to deal with asthma, said it was the first time he had been hospitalized for such a reason since law school.
Doctors say that weight can be a contributing factor to asthma attacks — and Christie acknowledged that his extra weight causes health problems — but he said he thought he fell ill because of the humid, poor air quality over the last several days.
“I think the weight exacerbates everything, I’ve been pretty candid about that from the start of my public career,” Christie said.
“It’s one of the major struggles of my life. I’m working on it. Like many other people across New Jersey and the country, I’m working on it.”
Wearing a suit and bandages on both hands, Christie looked as he normally does, and answered questions with good humor and without annoyance. The press conference ended up being one of the most well-attended of his 18 months in office, with 19 video cameras filming his remarks.
Christie recounted that he didn’t feel right when he woke up Thursday morning. On the way to a bill signing and press conference at a farm in Hillsborough, Somerset County, Christie felt shortness of breath and light-headedness, he said.
He used both his normal inhaler and a “rescue” inhaler, but it didn’t provide relief.
He told the state troopers he travels with that he didn’t feel well — “apparently [I] didn’t look all that well” — and they decided to take him to the hospital at about 10:30 a.m.
“I was kind of betwixt and between about whether to come or not...when you have four kids you don’t take chances, so I came here,” he said.
On the way to the hospital, he called his chief of staff, Richard Bagger, to let him know he was okay, he said.
Christie walked into the hospital on his own, and was then seated in a wheelchair. A battery of tests revealed the governor was okay, he said, and his blood pressure clocked in at an impressive 118/78.
“Despite the well-chronicled issues with my weight, I’ve been generally healthy by all indicators,” he said.
Christie was visited by his wife, Mary Pat, and brother, Todd. “[Mary Pat] owes me big time because she was in a dentist’s chair and i got her out of the dentist’s chair,” he said.
In the hospital the governor called all four of his children and spoke to the lieutenant governor and staffers by phone. He received well-wishes via text and e-mail. And he watched on TV as his favorite team, the New York Mets, almost blew a lead in Cincinatti.
“They almost sent me to the wrong end here,” he joked.
The incident also warmed Trenton’s coldest war. Christie, a Republican, took a call from State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who had been refusing to talk to the governor for weeks because he was angry at Christie’s budget cuts.
“Politics goes out the door at a time like this, and I join all of New Jersey in wishing the governor well and hoping for his swift return to the State House,” Sweeney said in a statement.
Christie said: “We had a nice conversation.”
Mary Pat later left to attend their son Patrick's baseball game. Christie's scheduled appearance tonight on 101.5 FM's "Ask The Governor" was cancelled. He planned to go home, see his children and get some rest.
On Friday, Christie said he planned to work out with a trainer in the morning, attend several meetings in Trenton and then go to a dinner.
Assembly Democratic leaders were the first Trenton politicians to release a statement about the Republican governor: “The Assembly’s thoughts, prayers and well wishes are with the governor. Good health and family are always the most important thing. We’re heartened to hear the governor is doing better and in very good hands, and we look forward to seeing him get back into action.”
State Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex), a possible Christie opponent for his gubernatorial re-election in 2013, tweeted the governor well wishes. He responded: "@SenatorBuono Thx 4 your kind thoughts...and BTW, Happy Birthday!"
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter, a Christie presidential booster, tweeted: "I took Christie's inhaler away until he promised to run in 2012."
Asked if the hospitalization would give fodder to political enemies and cast doubt on his viability to be president, Christie scoffed at the idea.
“If this is the best they got, I’m doing pretty well,” he said. “I don't think there is anything to use here.”
Christie is the fourth consecutive elected New Jersey governor to be hospitalized. Christie Todd Whitman was hospitalized several times for a variety of surgeries and once for a broken leg in a ski accident. Jim McGreevey broke his leg while walking on the beach. And Jon Corzine suffered several injuries after a major car accident.
Christie often references his asthma at town hall meetings, particularly when he was pushing legislation to change state employee health coverage.
He said that the cost of his inhaler, which he uses daily, decreased dramatically when he went from the federal government, where he was a U.S. Attorney, to the governor’s office.
The punch line to the story is that after he became governor, his pharmacist noticed the decrease and in price asked if he got a new job.
Dr. Reynold A. Panettieri, Jr., director of the asthma program at the University of Pennsylvania, said asthma is “incredibly common,” with as many as 1 in 15 people suffering from the disease.
Panettieri said “asthma exacerbations,” which can require a hospital visit, are associated with increased ozone levels during the summer when air quality is poor.
“The fact that we’ve had some really incredibly hot days can contibute to Gov. Christie’s exacerbations,” he said.
Although asthma deaths are rare, there are about 3,800 a year, Panettieri said. Christie’s hospitalization indicates his asthma problem is significant, he added.
Christie keeps a busy schedule, with outdoor press conferences each of the last two days. Panettieri said stress and anxiety can trigger asthma attacks, but it is a more common factor in children than adults.
"I only know how to do this job one way, so I'm going to do it the way I do it," Christie said. "I don't think there was anything about the job in particular that caused it, I think it was the weather and the atmostphere."
Weight, however, can lead to an attack. Christie has spoken about his struggles with weight since he stopped playing high school sports.
“The association has been well recognized and one of the main states of therapy is weight loss,” Panettieri said. “Needless to say his added weight is not a helpful endeavor.”
To treat the problem, Panettieri said doctors will likely adjust his medications and tell him to avoid possible triggers, like pet allergens, while staying inside in air conditioning on days with poor air quality.
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