Senator Ben Ray Lujan

Ben Ray Lujan’s Stroke: What We Know, and What We Still Don’t

Five hours after we published an article questioning the severity of Sen. Ben Ray Lujan’s supposedly “mild” stroke and the odd silence from his team, the senator released a video update on his condition.

Sitting with doctors from the University of New Mexico Hospital, Lujan said from behind a mask, “I’m doing well, I’m strong, I’m back on the road to recovery. 

“And I’m gonna make a full recovery, I’m gonna walk out of here, I’m gonna beat this, and I’m gonna be stronger once I come out.”

Four days later, he posted a photo of himself at a desk in the hospital, seated and masked. 

Tweet sent Feb. 17, 2022

Then, 22 days after his initial hospitalization for a stroke in his cerebellum, Lujan tweeted another video of him finally leaving the hospital.

But contrary to his claim on Feb. 13 that he was going to “walk out of here,” Lujan left in a wheelchair. And still masked.

According to the video, he was leaving in-patient care, “next stop is out-patient care, and getting back to the floor of the United States Senate.”

What We Know

We know that Lujan is lucid and verbal. He does not appear to be suffering from slurred speech or cognitive delays effecting his ability to speak coherently. 

What We Don’t Know

We don’t know whether Lujan has suffered any long-term facial paralysis from the stroke. Facial coverings are policy in New Mexico hospitals, but in the absence of a statement to the contrary, it’s impossible to know if Lujan is suffering from post-stroke effects like Bell’s Palsy.

Nor do we know whether he is capable of walking. Of the two videos and one photo publicized since his initial hospitalization, all show him seated. Dizziness and vertigo are common effects of cerebellar strokes, and because the cerebellum controls coordination and motor skills, it is possible that Lujan has not recorded himself standing or walking on account of these side effects.

Why Don’t We Know?

It is never wise to assume, but in the absence of any substantive updates from Lujan or his team about how he is recovery — what issues he is dealing with, what issues doctors think may persist, whether he is recovering faster, slower, or on track with initial assessments — his constituents are left to wonder. 

Regardless of political affiliation, most agree that as an elected official it is necessary to balance personal privacy and the public’s right to know. 

From the very beginning, the senator has not done a spectacular job striking that balance. 

Anticipating His Return

The initial announcement of Lujan’s stroke came on Feb. 1, five days after being hospitalized, and said the junior senator would be back to work in four to six weeks “barring any complications”— somewhere between March 1st and 15th. His Feb. 13 update said he would be back in “a few short weeks,” so somewhere around March 9th. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either a week after the best case scenario or a week earlier than the worst case scenario.

A delay in his return to Washington, or a return that reveals side effects that were not shared with the public along the way, could be politically damaging.

If there is nothing to hide, there is no reason to be cagey. If there is, the truth is better revealed early. They say democracy dies in darkness. So does trust.

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