Sanders returns home after heart attack but will 'change the nature of campaign'

Guardian staff and agencies
Photograph: Wilson Ring/AP

Senator Bernie Sanders indicated that he will “change the nature of the campaign a bit” after suffering a heart attack last week.

Venturing outside his Vermont home on Tuesday, the 78-year-old senator is slowly easing back into the 2020 presidential race, telling reporters he “should have listened to those symptoms”.

“I must confess, I was dumb,” Sanders said. “During this campaign, I’ve been doing, in some cases, three or four rallies a day, running all over the state – Iowa, New Hampshire, wherever. And yet I, in the last month or two, just was more fatigued than I usually have been.”

Sanders’ campaign has said he will be at next week’s Democratic presidential debate in Ohio. It has not said whether he will resume campaigning before that.

His health problems come at a precarious time. Sanders was already facing questions about his health and has seen his recent poll numbers decline compared with those of Elizabeth Warren, his chief competitor for the Democratic party’s progressive wing.

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Supporters privately conceded that the timing of the heart attack, just as the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump was escalating, helped limit the political fallout. But they also acknowledge that he will have to more directly address lingering health concerns.

Last week began on a high note when Sanders announced that he had raised $25.3m during the third quarter, more than any other Democratic presidential hopeful.

But just hours later, he was at a campaign event in Nevada when he experienced chest discomfort and was taken to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a heart attack.

Doctors inserted two stents to open up a blocked artery in his heart. Sanders left the hospital on Friday and flew home to Vermont the following morning.

That day, Sanders’ daughter-in-law Rainè Riggs died, at 46. Riggs, a neuropsychologist married to Sanders’ son Levi, had recently been diagnosed with cancer, according to her obituary.

As Sanders continues to recover, surrogates including Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, have taken Sanders’ place on the campaign trail.

Sanders has been active in recent days communicating with his staff and his broader network of longtime supporters. Those who have spoken to him say that he is quick to shut down questions about his health, insisting that he’s fine, and that he vowed to remain in the 2020 race during a Monday conference call with his entire campaign staff.

“It wasn’t a major heart attack. He had a minor heart attack. The stents will be extremely helpful in terms of blood flow. I assume he’ll be far more vigorous,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, a Sanders confidante and former executive director of National Nurses United. “Heaven help the opposition.”