Former President Jimmy Carter became dehydrated while working on a Habitat for Humanity building site in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Thursday morning and was hospitalized as a precaution.
“President Carter has been working hard all week. He was dehydrated working in the hot sun," Habitat for Humanity CEO Jonathan Reckford said in a statement Thursday morning. "President Carter told us he is OK and is being taken off-site for observation. He encourages everyone to stay hydrated and keep building."
Reckford and Habitat directed all further inquiries to the Carter Center, which later confirmed that the 92-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner and recent cancer survivor had taken ill on his first morning in Winnipeg, which followed three days he'd spentvolunteering at a Habitat building site in Edmonton, Alberta.
"As a precaution, he was transported to St. Boniface General Hospital for rehydration," the statement from the Atlanta-based Carter Center said. "Mrs. Carter is with him."
Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, 89, have been in Canada since Sunday, when they helped kick off the 34th Habitat for Humanity Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Edmonton. An annual mass-building blitz that takes place in different locations around the world, the work project this week is constructing 150 homes all over Canada to help commemorate that country's 150th anniversary. The 33rd Carter Work Project took place last August in Memphis.
Local media accounts of what happened Thursday morning vary slightly. CBC News reported that a Habitat volunteer said he'd seen Carter collapse in the hot sun, where he'd been using a handsaw to cut wood for a staircase. The Winnipeg Free Press said he'd been hard at work for some 90 minutes "when he went to sit down on a chair. As he sat, he appeared to wobble; Secret Service agents supported him, and whisked him back to where his motorcade was parked." A few minutes later, an ambulance arrived and "paramedics walked over to attend to the president."
A few hours after Thursday morning's incident, a close friend of the Carters in their hometown of Plains said she'd heard Carter was doing OK.
“All of President Carter’s family and friends are so happy he is fine,” said Jill Stuckey, who belongs to the same church as the former first couple and often hosts them for dinner at her home not far from the Carter "compound" in the little southwest Georgia town. “I sure hope he takes it easy for the rest of the day . . . but I doubt it!”
Indeed, the incident may have served as a reality check for many people who consider Carter almost invincible as a result of his battle with cancer and his relentless work ethic.
In August 2015, Carter said that doctors had found four small melanoma lesions on his brain. The discovery followed the removal of a lesion on his liver that took about ten percent of the organ. He began receiving drug treatments, along with radiation therapy, and said at the time that he would cut back significantly on his schedule.
He continued receiving treatments until the following February, after which he said his doctors had told him he no longer needed to receive them. Since then, the former president has continued to receive regular scans to ensure his cancer hasn’t returned.
Yet Carter was still fully in the throes of treatment when he announced that he and his wife would travel to Nepal to take part in the 32nd Carter Work Project in November 2015. Only when civil unrest in the remote mountain country forced Habitat to cancel the project did he give up his plan to spend five days building homes in rugged terrain 100 miles west of Kathmandu.
The Carters' dedication to Habitat for Humanity is legendary and, well, hands-on sweaty. It was March 1984 when the former first couple started working with Habitat in Americus; by September of that year, they were leading a group of volunteers to New York to help build and improve homes for 19 families. That inaugural Carter Work Project spawned the annual weeklong building event which over the years has seen them toil alongside nearly 100,000 volunteers in 14 countries to build, renovate and repair more than 4,000 homes.
Last August's Carter Work Project in Memphis coincided the one-year anniversary of the former president telling the world he had cancer. When he first got the diagnosis, Carter recalled in Memphis, "I didn’t think I was going to live but two or three weeks." But a year later, he was clearly determined to make the most of his recovery, showing up two minutes early at 6:58 a.m., to lead a devotional service for the assembled volunteers on Day One. Then, in a scene that would play out day after day, he and his wife were hard at work by 7:30 a.m., spreading hay on a building site where a concrete foundation and stacks of boards were mired in mud following recent heavy rain, then spending hours hammering and hauling boards in the hot sun.
“We get more out of it than we put into it,” Carter observed about their shared Habitat work during Sunday’s opening ceremony in Edmonton.
“One day I asked Jimmy: ‘When are we going to retire?,” his wife of 71 years quipped later in the ceremony. And he said, ‘What are we going to do? Just sit here and do nothing?’”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.