RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has been hospitalized following a horse-riding accident over the Christmas holidays in Africa that left him with seven broken ribs and fluid around his lungs, a spokesman said Monday.
Spokesman Brian Coy said doctors had expected the weeks-old injury to heal on its own, but after identifying increased fluid around the governor’s lungs, they admitted him around noon Monday for a procedure.
McAuliffe (D), who attended a Martin Luther King Jr. event in Norfolk on Monday morning and was interviewed by local media there, was admitted hours later to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond.
First lady Dorothy McAuliffe said in a statement released Monday afternoon that the procedure to drain fluid from the governor's chest cavity was successful.
“My husband is resting comfortably after a successful procedure this afternoon,” she said. “He and I want to thank the outstanding medical team at VCU Medical Center who just informed us that he is expected to recover well and get back to his full schedule within the next few days.”
Over Christmas, the McAuliffe family traveled to Africa to visit one of the governor’s daughters, who is working on an agriculture project in Zambia. The family later went on a safari in Tanzania, which is where the riding accident happened.
Coy said McAuliffe was seen by a doctor in Tanzania but was not hospitalized there. He has been back in Richmond for weeks, and doctors have been monitoring his condition, Coy said. He was admitted after a checkup Monday. He was expected to spend the night at the hospital and be “back in action” after two or three days of recovery, Coy said.
“He’s been uncomfortable, but he’s been going about his job,” Coy said, noting that McAuliffe has continued to work from the hospital.
“He does not sit still very well,” Coy said. “He’s been on the phone with staff, working.”
Coy visited with McAuliffe early Monday evening after the procedure, reporting “He’s back in action. He’s got two phones on his lap as we speak.”
McAuliffe has kept to his usual busy schedule since returning from Africa, betraying no hint of his injury in public appearances. Last week, he delivered a lengthy and animated State of the Commonwealth speech on his feet before a joint session of the House and Senate. Afterward, he entertained all 140 legislators for two hours at an Executive Mansion reception, never sitting down, aides said.
Even some of McAuliffe’s top staff did not realize he had been hurt, said Todd Haymore, secretary of agriculture and forestry. McAuliffe made no mention of his mishap in a Cabinet meeting held after the holidays, but the governor discussed the safari in a private conversation with Haymore, whose previous work for the tobacco industry used to take him to Africa.
“He mentioned that he had taken a tumble and hurt himself,” Haymore said. “He mentioned it to me almost in passing, as part of the larger conversation. I never thought about it again because I never saw him slow down.”
William A. Hazel Jr., McAuliffe’s secretary of health and human resources, said, “He is one tough dude.”
Hazel, an orthopedic surgeon, added this on the subject of broken ribs: “Those things hurt.”
News of McAuliffe’s hospitalization gave Richmond a jolt as the second week of the General Assembly session got underway. Legislative leaders had not been aware of the trip, much less the riding mishap.
The December vacation did not appear on the governor’s public schedule, though McAuliffe mentioned it to a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter in an interview at the end of the year.
“We don’t post family or private events on his public schedule,” Coy said.
Coy said McAuliffe is not required to notify House or Senate leaders when he is leaving the country.
“I can’t think of a reason why he would need to,” Coy said. “I don’t think there’s any procedural reason to do that.”
In the case of the governor’s sudden incapacitation, he said, emergency powers would be conferred to the chief of staff, who is aware of all of the governor’s travel plans.
McAuliffe’s hospitalization prompted an outpouring of well wishes from legislators, including Republicans who have clashed with him over policy.
“Our thoughts are with Governor McAuliffe after his accident and during his procedure,” said House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). “I wish him a speedy recovery.”
Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) said, “We look forward to seeing him back in Capitol Square in a matter of days.”
Some Republicans gave McAuliffe kudos for toughing it out.
“Delivering a State of the Commonwealth with 7 broken ribs is incredible. Heck listening to one with 7 broken ribs would be tough enough,” tweeted Tucker Martin, spokesman for McAuliffe’s predecessor, former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R). “Seriously, @GovernorVA just won the ‘Thomas Jefferson Iron Man’ competition. Get better soon Gov.”
Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.