Richard Queen, the freed American hostage, has multiple sclerosis, a serious, often progressive and crippling disease of the nervous system that can sometimes be brought on by stress but which in many cases improves and can even vanish.
U.S. government doctors said multiple sclerosis (MS) was responsible for the symptoms Queen showed while a hostage in Iran -- nausea, vomitting, numbness, lack of balance and poor muscle coordination. Those symptoms prompted Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to order Queen released last Friday.
Two doctors who have attended Queen told a press conference the 28-year-old vice consul is "a little bit better" since his release. In an official statement, they said they hoped Queen "would be among that group of patients with mild and transient manifestations of the illness." They said he would "resume his duties as a Foreign Service officer as soon as his health permits."
[Secretary of State Edmund Muskie announced in Washington Tuesday that Queen will fly to the United States Friday.]
["He will get health care and attention from government doctors and then he is going to the best place in the world to recuperate -- my own state of Maine," Muskie said.]
[Muskie said efforts are continuing by all possible means through third parties to try to gain release of the other hostages, but he emphasized the need for national patience as this process unfolds.]
["There seems to be no alternative after the failed rescue attempt," he said.]
The doctors said Queen developed the disease's symptoms in December, 1979, about one month after Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took him and other American hostage.
Although stress is believed to be one possible trigger of MS, the doctors said they had no indication that Queen's captivity caused the disease. "Whether the conditions in Iran did that is impossible to prove," said Dr. Jerome M. Korcak, deputy medical director for the U.S. State Department.
Asked whether any of the 52 other hostages still being held in Iran may also have MS, Dr. Herminio Cuervo, chief of neurological service at the hospital here where Queen is being examined and treated, said he doubted it, but added that it would depend on the susceptibilities of each hostage. MS is not contagious.
The doctors said Queen had been given some medication by the Iranians during his captivity.
The medication, they said, had been intended to control nausea and vomiting.
The doctors said they do not know exactly what the medication was. However, they said it could not have affected the disease, although it could have caused side effects.
Asked if Queen had to complain to receive treatment in Iran, Korcak said his impression is that Iranian authorities "were very forthcoming." He said there was no indication of negligence on the part of Iranian doctors.
Told that he has MS, Queen reportedly took the news "very calmly." He showed no emotional reaction at all," said Korcak. "He discussed it intelligently with us, and reached the same conclusions his parents have."
His parents, who were not with their son at the time he was told, said at the same press conference they are "at ease" with the news after listening to doctors explain the illness.
Said Harold Queen, Richard's father, "As we understand the nature of the disease -- and it has been very thoroughly explained to us by both Dr. Korcak and Dr. Cuervo -- we are both much more relaxed about it. It is not the frightening thing as the mere mention of the word might lead you to believe." Despite his son's condition, the father was hopeful.
"We know it's not progressively a worsening thing. It may vanish. It can reappear. The word itself carries more fearful connotations than the actual disease," he said.
Queen was released from Iran and flown to the University Hospital in Zurich Friday. After undergoing tests there, he was moved Saturday to the military hospital in this central German city near Frankfurt. It is the largest U.S. hospital outside the United States.
Iranian authorities have said his release was an exceptional measure. They have ruled out any imminent release of the remaining captives. Khomeini have given the Iranian parliament the task of setting terms for the freeing of the rest of the hostages, and the assembly has yet to begin debate on the matter.
Queen has been given a private room here that is "possible a little more elaborate than many Army hospital rooms," his father said. The room is "becoming filled with flowers" sent by Americans and Germans, sometimes anonymously.
The father, who is a retired RCA public relations executive, said his son has also received notes from school children at the military base wishing him well. One youngster offered to give the ex-hostage his allowance of $1. Queen declined.
"It's been that kind of thing," said Harold Queen. "It's been very warming and very touching and very moving and spontaneous."
Asked what sort of reception he expects for his son on returning to America, the father said, "I haven't the foggiest notion." What would he like to see? "I'd like to see whatever is going to be easiest on him. He is still a fairly ill guy, and I think our main concern is going to be his health."
Parents and son so far have steered clear during their daily visits of specific talk about the experience of being a captive in Iran for 250 days.
"There has not been one area we have been told we should not discuss with our son," said Harold Queen. "We have complete liberty to discuss everything with him we wish to. We see him to private and we talk over whatever we wish.
"I think there is sort of a tacit understanding that we don't go into his experience. At some time, that will come at his will. He's alluded to do it here and there."
What allusions? "Just small incidents," said the father without elaboration.
Korak declined to answer questions from reporters on whether Queen had said anything about other hostages or whether he had been held in solitary confinement. The doctor said the press conference had been called to discuss Queen's medical condition, not his condition in captivity.
Cuervo said Queen showed the following symptoms when he arrived here: difficulty with motor coordination in the left upper part of his body and a loss of sensation there; some difficulty in the normal control of bowell movements; some difficulty in maintaining his balance and double vision. b
In addition, Cuervo said, Queen's condition was complicated by nausea and vomiting.
Although doctors said they have noticed some improvement in Queen's condition since his release, they were reluctant to draw any direct connection.
Relief of tension from leaving captivity could help explain Queen's improvement, Cuervo said, "but it would be almost impossible to say with certainty that he might be getting better now from this or that other factor. But obviously, stress is an important factor."
What is being done for Queen now? "We're making him feel as well as he can," Cuervo said.