Rick Santorum: How Politicians Juggle Family, Adversity and Tragedy

PHOTO: Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum holds his daughter Isabella before announcing he is entering the Republican presidential race, June 6, 2011 in Somerset, Pa.
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For presidential candidates, there's usually no five-day work week, no holiday vacations, no time for family emergencies and no leeway for personal problems.

Running for president is a 24/7 affair, but when Rick Santorum's 3-year-old daughter, Bella, was taken to the hospital last weekend, the GOP contender made a rare move to take two days off from his arduous campaign schedule to stay by his daughter's side.

Today Santorum announced that he would suspend his presidential campaign in part to spend more time with Bella, who has the rare, and nearly always fatal, genetic chromosomal disorder Trisomy 18.

"She is a fighter and she is doing exceptionally well and is back with us," Santorum said while announcing he had suspended his campaign. He said the past weekend's hospital visit "did cause us to think about this role that we have as parents in her life and with the rest of our family. This was a time for prayer and thought."

For months Santorum has been caught in a solemn juggling routine between Bella's bedside – she has been in the hospital twice this year – and the campaign trail, where he struggled to recapture momentum after big losses on Super Tuesday.

Santorum is not the only candidate on the family-campaign seesaw. A handful of presidential candidates have had to manage this same kind of balancing act in recent years.

In 2008, Democratic candidate John Edwards vowed to plug on with his primary bid while his wife battled breast cancer for the second time. And 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin had to balance her White House campaign with the demands of her infant son, Trig, who has Down syndrome.

Considering the physical, emotional and intellectual demands that running a national campaign requires, psychologist Carl Mumpower said that when gauged against stress indexes, presidential candidates already had one of the most taxing jobs. Add a special needs child or sick spouse to the mix, and Mumpower said it could become a "distracting overload."

"They are like political zombies going from meeting to meeting," said Mumpower, who took a hiatus from his private psychology practice in North Carolina to run for Congress in 2008. "Campaigning at that level is an endurance contest, so any extra load in their backpack has the potential to be an overload."

On top of that grueling campaign grind, many U.S. presidents have also had to cope with losing a loved one, which is "very very common" in the lives of America's commanders in chief, presidential historian Doug Wead said.

"It's just stunning," said Wead, the author of "All the Presidents' Children" and "The Raising of a President," both about the personal lives of America's leaders. "It's uncanny. It's like life gives them this great victory and then takes it away."

From the first president to the current one, many of the country's leaders have lived through the death of an immediate family member, Wead said.

President Obama's grandmother, who raised him as a child, died the day before he won the 2008 presidential election. Vice President Joe Biden's wife and 18-month-old daughter were killed in a car accident days before he was sworn in to his first Senate term in 1972.

America's 14th president, Franklin Pierce, saw his son beheaded in a train wreck in the time between his election and his inauguration. And the seventh president Andrew Jackson's wife died days before his inauguration, reportedly while shopping for her inaugural gown.

William Henry Harrison, who at 32 days served the shortest tenure of any president before dying of pneumonia, buried three of his sons in the three years preceding his presidency.

Three months before his assassination, President John F. Kennedy's wife, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, gave birth to a premature son, Patrick Bouvier, who died of lung complications two days later.

Calvin Coolidge, who held office in the 1920s, declined to run for a second term, in part, Wead said, because during his first term Coolidge's 16-year-old son died of blood poisoning from a blister on his foot that he got playing tennis.

"Death is one of the most prevalent common denominators of the presidents," Wead said.

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