Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Ceremony Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the National Heart Institute.

November 14, 1968

Mr. Secretary, Senator Hill, Congressman Pepper, distinguished Members of Congress, honored guests:

This is one birthday party that I am very glad to attend. All of you in this room-Congressmen, Federal officials, doctors, medical researchers--have contributed a great deal to the struggle against heart diseases.

I am particularly happy this morning that Dr. Robert Hall, the distinguished cardiologist who looks after General Eisenhower, is a guest here. I don't know whether I should make this personal reference or not, but I have been forced to pay the Federal Government several hundred thousand dollars in taxes since Dr. Willis Hurst saved my life when I had a heart attack.

I am happy that President Eisenhower is going on paying taxes after many, many attacks. I think largely it is because of the great advances that you good people in this room have forced us politicians to make in the work that the National Heart Institute is doing.

There is one person who cannot be here today who I wish could be. If he were here he would certainly be justified in occupying a seat of honor. That person is President Harry Truman. President Truman believed that the health of the people of this country should be his foremost concern. And it was during the days of his Presidency. Those of us who share this belief often seem to regard it as a fact that was revealed in the Book of Genesis. But it was not.

Building the Federal role in health and medical research, as Lister Hill and Claude Pepper know, is long, hard, and sometimes bitter. But, thanks to all of you today, there is a strong support in this country for the NIH from political leaders, from researchers, but most importantly, from the people of this country. All the people who are not supporting it will be supporting it if you will give the name and address to Mrs. Lasker.

In the 20 years since this Institute was founded, we have amassed more knowledge about the heart and its diseases than mankind gained in all the previous history. We have reduced the death rate from high blood pressure by nearly 50 percent in the last 10 years. We have developed new surgical techniques. We have some of the distinguished surgeons here with us this morning. I am glad to say we have developed heart lung machines; we have developed open heart surgery; and we have made many other breakthroughs.

Intensive heart care units today are saving hundreds of lives and every one they save remains a taxpayer. That we must not lose because this investment pays off. Many of these advances would never have been achieved at all except for the Federal investments in health care and in biomedical research that was brought about under the leadership of you people, particularly Senator Hill and Congressman Pepper, and others.

Now, we have come a long way, but I know there is not a person in the room or at the Heart Institute or on a medical faculty anywhere who feels that we have come nearly far enough. A family of diseases that still murders more than a million citizens a year cannot be said to be ready for a knockout blow.

High blood pressure kills 55,000 Americans every year. Twenty to thirty thousand babies are born each year with heart defects. Coronary heart disease kills more than 500,000 Americans every year, and many die before the doctor ever gets there.

Today in this room, I think we should all pledge ourselves so that someday we can say to our grandchildren--I am thinking in terms like that these days--that we met here in the East Room with the President and we started on the next 20 years.

In those years to come, I think we ought to expect that our accomplishments are going to be even more spectacular. So, I want to send all of you away from here with a mission, with a charge, with a challenge. I would hope that each of you would be willing to be missionaries of progress in health legislation for the next 20 years. I am not talking about the past now, I am talking about what is ahead of us.

I wish we could make sure that the path between the research laboratory and the congressional committee room is well worn. So, stand before the American people and tell them what a good investment it is for them to spend a little money on thinning blood so that a man can live another 20 years and pay thousands of dollars of taxes every single year.

Stand before the American people and argue for the funds that are essential if we are going to make this 20 years better than the last.

If you do these things, I have no doubt that when we meet again in the East Room, God willing, 20 years from now, we will have an even happier birthday celebration. On that day, I believe we can boast not only to have slowed down the killers--which has saved at least a few Presidents, who are evidence of that fact today--but we can brag that we have banished them. And all the fear and the waste and tragedy that went along with it is no longer with us.

If that happens, that will be my proudest moment, because I have seen in my own life and the lives of other dear people what you scientists can do if we will just give you a little of our concern and our care and our interest.

I know what it is to watch the crisis days that I have gone through the last few weeks with President Eisenhower's illness and how I have seen the great investment that we have made pay off in helping this man resist this problem. I know what it is to have your blood pressure go to zero and to go into shock. I know it well enough that I would like to see the day come when that did not happen to anybody, and if it did happen to anybody, that you would have the implements to get the same results that the Good Lord and Lady Bird and Dr. Hurst all working together got back in 1955.

Some of you may agree that it was a good result and some of you may not.

Note: The President spoke at 1:12 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Wilbur J. Cohen, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Senator Lister Hill of Alabama, and Representative Claude Pepper of Florida. During his remarks he referred to, among others, Mrs. Albert D. Lasker, President of the Albert D. Lasker Foundation for medical research.

Prior to the President's remarks, Secretary Cohen, Dr. Robert Q. Marston, Director of the National Institutes of Health, and several others spoke on the history, programs, and accomplishments of the National Heart Institute. Their remarks are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 4, p. 1597).

The National Heart Institute was created on June 16, 1948, pursuant to the National Heart Act (63 Stat. 464), and charged with conducting research into the causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases of the heart and circulation.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a Ceremony Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the National Heart Institute. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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