Observers debate significance of Gov. Greg secrecy on scalding injuries

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Gov. Greg Abbott was released Friday from a San Antonio military hospital, but he has yet to give details of the accident that put him there with second- and third-degree burns.

Abbott’s office has said his lower legs and feet were severely burned when he came into contact with scalding hot water July 7 during a family trip to Wyoming. It also has released details of his treatment at the San Antonio Military Medical Center. But the governor’s office repeatedly has declined to say how that accident happened, prompting speculation and dividing political observers over whether Texas’ top official should give more information about such serious injuries.

“How incredibly foolish of the governor’s staff,” said political professor Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “One way or the other, the truth will come out. Why not head off silly speculation and tell it like it is from the start. Serious burns requiring skin grafts are major injuries, and people will wish him well. But hesitation to be forthcoming will encourage conspiracy theories in the age of social media.”

Others are fine with Abbott’s choice to withhold some details, including some consultants from the opposite side of the political aisle from the governor.

“I think public officials should be afforded as much privacy as reasonable,” said Democratic strategist Harold Cook. “It’s hard enough as it is to get quality people to run for office. The more intrusive the job description becomes, the more difficult it is.

“So if they have disclosed what the problem is, and what his treatment is and all that, then good enough for me,” said Cook. “And it ought to be good enough for all Texans.”

Abbott, who uses a wheelchair because his back was broken in a 1984 accident, is no stranger to sharing specifics about his health.

The Republican has spoken extensively, and in detail, about that early accident and how it shaped his life. He also wrote about it in a book released this year, “Broken But Unbowed.”

Even when he returned to Texas the day after he was burned to address the Dallas slaying of five officers, he brought up the accident that rendered him a paraplegic in an interview with MSNBC.

Abbott has been widely praised for dealing with the Dallas tragedy on a public stage despite the severe injuries. His staff didn’t disclose the burns until Sunday, saying he hadn’t wanted them to be a distraction. The Austin American-Statesman first reported about them.

On Monday, Abbott went to the San Antonio military hospital for an outpatient examination. Doctors quickly admitted him and performed skin graft surgery on his feet Tuesday.

“When he was evaluated here in San Antonio at the burn center, they demonstrated it was of greater consequence than they originally thought, that grafting would be necessary and you want to be sure that the grafts are as undisturbed as possible so they’re not sheared away from the wound bed, and then you might have to do another grafting,” said Dr. Basil Pruitt, professor of surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center who commanded the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research for 27 years. He is not involved in Abbott’s case.

Abbott’s staff has provided updates of his treatment and announced his release on Friday. His spokesman, Matt Hirsch, earlier said he had left the Wyoming hospital for Texas even though the doctor there had thought it best for him not to travel immediately.

But Abbott’s staff declined to comment on the decision not to release information about the accident itself, saying only that Abbott was getting ready for a Republican Governors Association dinner when he “came into contact with scalding hot water.”

‘Treated and released’

In Wyoming, there appears to be no record of anyone contacting local emergency officials on Abbott’s behalf.

One official there said he believed the Teton County dispatch center was notified that there would be a self-transport to St. John’s Medical Center. Teton County Sheriff Jim Whalen, however, said there was no log for such an event. The American-Statesman has reported that Abbott was transported to the hospital by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which provides security for the governor.

Karen Connelly, a spokeswoman for St. John’s Medical Center, said she did not know when Abbott was brought to the hospital or how he had gotten hurt.

“I do not have any information about that, and I wouldn’t have any reason to inquire about his personal medical information,” she said.

Abbott wasn’t admitted to the Wyoming hospital.

“They were here for a very short amount of time,” Connelly said. “Treated and released, in other words.”

Abbott’s schedule has been affected by the accident. He was unable to attend a memorial service for the slain officers in Dallas Tuesday at which President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush spoke.

He canceled plans to host a dinner at the governor’s mansion for representatives of the New York Stock Exchange and Texas companies. He won’t be able to attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak suggested the details of the accident aren’t crucial.

“All that matters, I think, for most people is, is he able to continue doing his job, and is he able to recover? And I think the answer to both those questions is clearly yes,” said Mackowiak.

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson called it “unusual for a high-ranking official to be hospitalized with no description of the cause.” He made note that Abbott has “spent a great deal of time talking about his life-altering injury” that occurred in 1984.

“He has talked about it in ways that describe it as shaping his personality and his character and his determination – that that injury is part of what made him who he is, with his determination and strength – and so now to be so quiet about the nature of this injury means they haven’t yet figured out the positive story,” Jillson said.

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