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MacArthur Enters “Peaceful Coma”

Apr. 3, 1964 - Army Surgeon General Leonard Heaton reported at 6 p.m. today that General of the Army Douglas MacArthur (pictured in Tokyo in 1948) “shows signs of entering a peaceful coma.” It was the first time the word “coma” had been used in any bulletin concerning the five-star general’s condition since he entered Walter Reed Army Hospital March 2, and it seemed to indicate death may be near.

Heaton’s bulletin at Walter Reed Army Hospital was the first formal report on the condition of the general since a morning statement that he had had a “fair night” and was battling doggedly for life. There was fear then of uremic poisoning, but Heaton said a process using a tube to remove kidney wastes was working “quite satisfactorily.”

Despite the general weakening of his system, the 84-year-old World War II hero has kept up a fierce battle to overcome the effects of three major abdominal operations in 24 days.

Coma is the most profound form of unconsciousness and can have a variety of causes, among them shock, a depletion of bodily fluids that sometimes follows extensive surgery. In aged persons, coma is frequently the last stage of an illness. In efforts to overcome unconsciousness, doctors treat the underlying disease or injury that causes it.

But Heaton’s bulletin offered no statement as to the underlying cause of General MacArthur’s approaching unconsciousness. The use of the word “peaceful” in describing his condition would not necessarily detract from its seriousness.

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