Posted: May 11, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There have been too many hospital rooms in the 41 years of Beau Biden's life.

It is the first unforgettable memory much of Delaware has of him -- a three-year-old boy with a mangled leg, in traction after the awful car accident that turned the joyous glow of Christmastime 1972 and his father's improbable election to the U.S. Senate weeks earlier to trauma and tragedy.

Joe Biden literally began his Senate career in a Wilmington hospital chapel, his oath of office administered by the secretary of the Senate there because Beau Biden still was unhealed.

Joe Biden, just past his 30th birthday, by then had buried his wife and baby daughter, both killed in the collision, and brought home his two-year-old son Hunter, recovered from a head injury sustained in the crash.

The Biden family slowly rebuilt itself, a new marriage to Jill, a new daughter, but still.

Even into adulthood, the old injury sometimes could make Beau Biden limp.

Now there is a new hospital stay, another shock coming out of the blue. It is an unbelievable swerve in what had seemed to be a straightforward stretch of life as the Democratic attorney general, running for re-election without an opponent even on the horizon, and savoring the perquisites that go with having a father who is the vice president.

The Office of the Vice President issued a grave bulletin containing a statement Tuesday afternoon from Dr. Timothy Gardner, the medical director of the Center for Heart & Vascular Surgery at Christiana Care Health System:

"Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden was admitted this morning to Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware, after having what we believe to be a mild stroke. He is in good spirits and talking with his family at the hospital.

"He is fully alert, in stable condition and has full motor and speech skills. We expect him to make a full recovery."

A later bulletin said he was being moved to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.

What happened to Beau Biden was eerily reminiscent of what happened to his father at 45, not so much older at the time.

Some months after Joe Biden was knocked out of the 1988 presidential race, he was in the hospital with a brain aneurysm, a blood vessel leaking at the base of his brain, and if it had burst, it would have killed him.

The doctors also found a second one, but before he was strong enough for another surgery, he had chest pains and breathing trouble because of a blood clot in his lungs. He recovered from it all, although it took about six months.

In his return to the Senate, he reflected on his experience with the fatalistic optimism -- or is it optimistic fatalism? -- of his heritage in remarks paraphrasing Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

"To fail to understand that life is going to knock you down is to fail to understand the Irishness of life," Joe Biden said.

His son no doubt gets it. Beau Biden is not having his first inexplicable medical episode.

As an assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, he volunteered in late 2000 for an assignment setting up a criminal justice system in Kosovo, a Serbian province under United Nations' administration after it erupted in ethnic violence.

Beau Biden contracted some mysterious illness there and returned to a harrowing round of doctors' visits. He was weakened for months afterwards.

Now this, to someone who is a dedicated runner and seemed fine to people who saw him only a day or two ago. He has a wife and two little kids.

Life was not supposed to be so perilous, not after he passed on a Senate race for his father's old seat against Mike Castle, the formidable Republican congressman and ex-governor, and not after he finished a yearlong tour as a National Guard JAG captain in Iraq to come back home where it should have been safe.

Life is fragile. Not safe.