Midterms 2022: Stroke Survivor Fetterman Wins Highly Contested Penn. Senate Seat


"File:Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (cropped).jpg" by Governor Tom Wolf from Harrisburg, PA is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

John Fetterman, previously the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, was elected as the state’s newest Senator on Nov. 9, 2022, in a highly contested Mid-Term Election. Fetterman suffered a stroke in early 2022, but persevered to win the recent election.

Sophia Prashanth and Avani Prabhu

Before Pennsylvania’s newly elected Democratic Senator, John Fetterman, was declared winner of a debate against his Republican opponent Dr. Mehmet Oz, some questioned if he would be able to participate in the 2022 Midterm election, much less a debate.

Fetterman suffered a stroke in May 2022 which damaged his auditory processing capabilities.

Regardless of his recent election’s impact on U.S. politics, the new Senator’s life story is an inspirational account of persevering against adversity.

Fetterman was born in York, Penn. and attended Albright College. On his official Senate Campaign website, his life-shaping experiences include joining the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization, joining AmeriCorps, and serving in Pittsburgh’s famed Hill District, where he helped establish the first computer laboratories for a young parents’ GED program.

Fetterman graduated with a Masters Degree in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Encouraged by his pupils, in 2005 he ran for mayor of Braddock, Penn., and he narrowly prevailed in the crowded primary by one vote. He sought to restore the town throughout his 13 years as mayor by bringing innovative urban policy solutions to Braddock, generating jobs and engaging young people.

Fetterman often campaigns with his wife Gisele for causes the couple supports, including immigration reform. 

In 2018, Fetterman ran for Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania. He won the Democratic primary against five rivals and prevailed in the general election with a resounding victory. 

Midway through May 2022, Fetterman was on his way to a campaign event when his wife saw his face drooping and his speech becoming slurred. They immediately proceeded to the hospital, where he swiftly secured the democratic Senatorial nomination for the 2022 Mid-Terms while still a patient. Fetterman endured a two-and-a-half-hour surgery to have a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted in his chest that same day.

Fetterman was fortunate to survive, as severe strokes can be catastrophic. While still recovering, Fetterman struggled to reliably understand spoken English due to his new auditory processing issues, hence why he used closed captioning during interviews and campaign events. 

None of these health problems deterred Fetterman, despite how his impaired hearing, slurring or difficulty with words could have presented a problem in the debate. 

“I thought it was important that I show up and I did,” Fetterman later explained in an interview with CNN.

On Nov. 8, 2022, Midterm Election Day, Fetterman was confirmed the winner of the senate race by the Associated Press. He beat his opponent by almost 200,000 more votes.

Fetterman’s victory has opened the door for other people with disabilities to explore new opportunities in life. Which disabilities actually hinder a person’s ability to hold office was a question that’s been asked since Franklin D. Roosevelt held office back in 1932.

Of course, we’ve come a long way since then. Tammy Duckworth is a Senator in Illinois who uses a wheelchair. Countless disability advocates point out that she’s able to do her duties well as long as everything is accessible. 

Despite these examples, some people claim that cognitive disabilities, like the one Fetterman has, will affect his ability to process information. 

“To say that anyone with a cognitive disability is inherently disqualified from serving in an elected office is just a really big claim that alienates millions of people,” Sarah Blahovec, a political consultant who deals with disability issues, recently told The Guardian.

Regardless of its impact on the U.S. political landscape, Fetterman’s transparency with the whole situation has impressed many people inside and outside the state of Pennsylvania. He has made it very clear that the things he’s going through require accommodations.

In a world where people were, and still are, forced to hide their health problems to achieve their goals, Fetterman stepped up and showed everyone there is a place for people like him in U.S. politics.