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Walter Reed medical center: Inside the storied hospital where Trump is being treated

The facility boasts a specially designed presidential suite — and a colorful history.
Image: US-HEALTH-VIRUS-VOTE-TRUMP-HOSPITAL
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on Oct. 2, 2020.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

The medical center where President Donald Trump is being treated for Covid-19 is a world-class facility that's been specifically tailored to tend to the commander in chief.

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, is a sprawling 243-acre complex about 9 miles from the White House that includes a presidential suite, a first lady's suite and a self-contained area where the president and a small group, including the White House physician, can live and work.

The area, which unlike the rest of the facility is controlled by the White House, has its own intensive care unit, kitchen, dining room and several sitting rooms, including at least one secure room that can be used as a conference room or office. There's also a space that's been set aside for the White House chief of staff to use while the president is there.

The VIP treatment ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital, referred to there as Ward 71, in 2007.Tim Dillon / USA TODAY Network

When the president is not there, top military brass, Cabinet members and other dignitaries, including foreign leaders, are treated in the executive medicine area.

The White House physician's office said on Friday that Trump is expected to be in the hospital for "a few days."

He is far from the first president to be examined and treated at the Department of Defense facility that has roots dating back over a century.

Walter Reed General Hospital opened on May 1, 1909. Named for an Army major who helped discover that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes, the hospital tended to numerous presidents and injured soldiers in Washington, D.C.

After a 2007 scandal about inadequate treatment of wounded soldiers there, the Army hospital was merged with the other go-to medical facility for presidents and politicians, the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, to form the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in 2011.

Also called the President's Hospital, Walter Reed's website describes it as "the world's largest joint military medical center," with more than 2.4 million square feet of clinical space.

Then-Vice President Richard Nixon was treated for a staph infection at Walter Reed in 1960, and former President Dwight Eisenhower died there in 1969 after being hospitalized for nine months with heart issues. His last words were, "I want to go; God take me."

President Lyndon Johnson chats with former President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Walter Reed Army Hospital on June 11, 1968.AP file

Former first lady Mamie Eisenhower died at Walter Reed a decade later.

The hospital grounds also included some macabre presidential memorabilia in its National Museum of Health and Medicine. The museum, which traced the history of medicine over the centuries, displayed the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln and fragments of Lincoln's skull. It also housed a piece of President James Garfield’s vertebrae. After the hospital's Washington, D.C., site shut down, the museum moved to Silver Spring, Maryland.

The site of the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda was selected by President Franklin Roosevelt, an amateur architect who even drew a sketch of how he thought the hospital should look.

Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for the facility's tower in 1940, and the 16th floor was initially set aside for the president.

James Forrestal, the first secretary of defense, was treated there for psychiatric issues after resigning in 1949 — and killed himself by jumping out of the 16th-floor window.

President Lyndon Johnson invited cameras into his hospital roomafter he underwent a gallbladder operation in 1965. After conspiracy theories emerged that he'd undergone a different procedure, he proudly showed off his scar to reporters.

In the middle of the Watergate scandal that cost him his presidency, Nixon was treated at the hospital for viral pneumonia in July 1973. The White House made public Nixon's temperature and X-rays, the type of information that the Trump White House refused to disclose to reporters on Saturday.

President Ronald Reagan underwent cancer surgery at the Bethesda hospital in 1985. When he was discharged, rows of cheering sailors and a military band greeted him outside.

Doctors at the hospital also operated on first lady Betty Ford in 1974 — but she was considered the true lifesaver. Ford's transparency about her breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy came at a time when both were considered taboo subjects.

The publicity is credited with bringing the disease into the open, and Ford's promotion of screening and treatment options are believed to have inspired countless women to seek breast examinations and saved lives.