Early Thursday morning, Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings passed away at the age of 68. Although his congressional office said that his passing was related to complications from longstanding health issues, his specific cause of death was not publicly shared.
In a statement, his wife Maya Rockeymoore said “He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem. It’s been an honor to walk by his side on this incredible journey. I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”
Here’s what you need to know about Elijah Cummings’ health:
1. Cummings Was Hospitalized for 2 Months in 2017 Following a Heart Valve Replacement
In May 2017, Cummings’ office reported that he underwent a “minimally invasive” heart surgery, a transarterial aortic valve replacement to treat aortic stenosis. According to The Washington Post, the surgery was scheduled and not an emergency operation, and Cummings was expected to return to his normal schedule after a few days in the hospital. In reality, he spent 2 months in the hospital recovering.
The New York Times states that, following that heart surgery, Cummings said he was “living on borrowed time.” Representative Jamie Raskin remarked that Cummings “tells us all that this is the fight of our lives. He has a sense of destiny about this moment.”
2. Cummings Was Absent From Congress for 10 Weeks in 2018 Due to a Bacterial Knee Infection
On December 29, 2018, Cummings was hospitalized at John Hopkins Hospital due to a bacterial infection that doctors found in his knee. To recover from the infection and subsequent surgery, Cummings spent 10 weeks in John Hopkins and their in-patient rehabilitation center.
Once he was back home recovering, his office told The Washington Post in a statement that he was “taking meetings by phone and in constant contact with Members and staff.” They added “He is continuing with in-home physical therapy and his doctors have assured the Congressman that they expect his full recovery. He will adhere strictly to his doctors’ direction as to when he will return to the Hill.”
When he returned to work, The Washington Post reported that he told his fellow Capitol Hill staff “I’ve often said, don’t ask the question, ‘Why did it happen to me?’ but, ‘Why did it happen for me?’ I am thoroughly convinced, and you will never convince me otherwise, that what I have gone through was for a purpose.”
3. Cummings’ Wife Dropped Out of the Maryland Race for Governor Following His 2018 Hospitalization
Elijah’s wife Maya Rockeymoore, whom he was married to since 2008, ran for Governor of Maryland, but ultimately dropped out, citing “personal considerations” as the reason. According to The Baltimore Sun, she said “Making a positive and direct contribution to the state of Maryland and to our nation was my greatest motivating factor for stepping into the public arena. Unfortunately due to personal considerations, I am suspending my bid for governor of Maryland. I thank all of the people across the country who have supported my campaign and those whom I have met on the campaign trail who also fervently believe that we can and must do better for the people of Maryland.”
Although her campaign did not comment on whether or not her decision was related to Elijah’s health setback, according to The Baltimore Sun, later that same day, her husband Elijah announced that he had been in the hospital for the past week.
4. Cummings Used a Motorized Scooter & Walker to Support His Mobility
In the last two years of his life, following his knee surgery, Elijah Cummings could be seen utilizing a walker for stability when getting around on foot. According to the New York Times, he also used a motorized scooter to get around the Capitol for work more easily.
Cummings first shared a photo with his walker on Instagram on June 22, 2018, when his campaign for reelection began in Baltimore.
5. Cummings Was Expected to Return to Congress After the Columbus Day Holiday, Following a September 2019 Medical Procedure
In a statement to The Baltimore Sun, Cummings said “I am recovering following my medical procedure and remain in constant communication with my staff and my colleagues in the Congress. My doctors anticipate that I will be returning to Washington, D.C., when the House comes back into session in two weeks.” He did not go into detail regarding the nature of the procedure.
Following the Columbus Day federal holiday, Cummings missed two roll call votes on Tuesday, October 15, which should have been his first day back; he passed away two days later. According to The Washington Post, Cummings last participated in a roll call vote on September 11, 2019.