Chicago Tribune, Published June 26 2012
Lawyer says Jesse Jackson Jr.'s leave is unrelated to friend’s arrest
By Katherine Skiba and Deborah L. Shelton
CHICAGO — A day after U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s office announced that he was on medical leave for exhaustion, people who know him offered no new details Tuesday, but they did issue new denials.
A lawyer for Jackson, D-Ill., insisted that the congressman’s absence was unrelated to longtime family friend Raghuveer Nayak’s arrest last week.
A Jackson spokesman refused to say whether the congressman was in Illinois or was even in a medical facility, but did beat back a rumor that Jackson was staying at a Puerto Rico hotel. “That would be absurd,” said the spokesman, Frank Watkins.
When asked when Jackson would return to work, Watkins said, “We don’t know at this point.”
Jackson, 47, who entered Congress in 1995 and sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has been under scrutiny over his attempts in late 2008 to get then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to appoint him to President Barack Obama’s Senate seat. He predicts that a House Ethics Committee investigation will vindicate him.
Nayak, a political fundraiser central to the question of whether Jackson tried to steer millions in campaign contributions to influence the Blagojevich appointment, was indicted last week on unrelated federal counts. The Oak Brook, Ill., resident is accused of bribing doctors to send patients to his surgical centers.
Chicago attorney Paul Langer, one of Jackson’s lawyers, said he does not know where the lawmaker is, but that he “is suffering from exhaustion” and “I can tell you unequivocally it has nothing to do with the arrest of Mr. Nayak.”
Neither Jackson’s father, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, nor his spouse, Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, has publicly commented on the congressman’s absence.
At the elder Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, press secretary Lauren Love said that he was in London for a conference on hip-hop and had no comment on his son. Sandi Jackson’s top aide, Keiana Barrett, did not return calls for comment.
Some empathized with the lawmaker.
Alderman Carrie Austin, whose Far South Side ward includes part of Jackson’s district, told reporters Tuesday that she was treated for exhaustion in 2010. She blamed the stress of being an alderman and spending so much time with her 28 grandchildren.
“If he states he’s exhausted in that respect, that will take you down,” Austin said. “I’ve been there, so it is a legitimate cause, that you can wear ragged and wear yourself out ... you’re extremely mentally and physically tired.”
“Exhaustion” is a lay term for a cluster of symptoms that often have multiple causes, according to several doctors who spoke generally about the ailment, noting they have not treated Jackson and were not familiar with his case.
Dr. Michele Bailey, a primary care physician at Rush University Medical Center, said lack of sleep and working too hard are common causes. “Both factors can trigger a cascade of negative health effects, including feeling exhausted,” she said.
Two or three patients of every 10 Bailey sees each week describe symptoms of exhaustion, she said.
On Capitol Hill, The Hill newspaper named Jackson one of its “50 most beautiful people” in 2010 and noted that his weight had ballooned from 210 pounds to 310 pounds before he underwent weight-loss surgery in 2004. By 2010, the paper said, he’d dropped to 175 pounds and had taken up yoga and tae kwon do.
Jackson’s surgery was a duodenal switch, which involves removing part of the stomach and reconfiguring the intestine to reduce the size of the small bowel. The procedure changes how the body absorbs nutrients, and lack of absorption of some vitamins and minerals can cause fatigue, doctors said.
“People who undergo gastric bypass surgery often have chronic problems with nutritional deficiency and may lack micronutrients like iron, calcium, vitamin B complex and may need to be on vitamin supplements,” said Dr. David Zich, a doctor of internal medicine and emergency medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “It takes careful attention to diet, and for people who have varying schedules and are constantly on the go, oftentimes a diet is the first to go when we are rushing and trying to meet a schedule.”