On Saturday morning, Donald Trump’s personal physician exited the Walter Reed Medical Center with a phalanx of doctors to update the world on the president’s condition.
“At this time, the team and I are extremely happy with the progress the president has made,” Dr Sean Conley said.
“We remain cautiously optimistic… He’s doing great.”
Just minutes later, the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, gave a widely different account: the president’s vital signs over the past 24 hours had been “very concerning”, he told reporters, adding that the next 48 hours would be critical.
The Navy officer was also forced to clarify the timeline of his only patient’s coronavirus case, shortly after giving his statement to the press.
While initially saying it had been “72 hours” since Mr Trump’s diagnosis – which would have meant the president had tested positive on Wednesday, 36 hours before he announced his infection – Dr Conley said he had meant to say “day three” instead.
On Sunday, Dr Conley revealed that the president had been put on supplementary oxygen too, after previously denying it to reporters.
The seemingly contradictory messages have raised concerns about the White House’s transparency over the president’s health at a crucial time for the country.
Who is Sean Conley?
The 40-year-old has served as Physician to the President since March 2018.
Like most medical staff at the White House, Dr Conley is a military officer, meaning President Trump is ultimately his commander-in-chief.
The tradition of hiring doctors from the military has been in place since the American Civil War. This is partly because few civilian doctors can leave their practices for several years at short notice.
Dr Connie Mariano, a former presidential physician, told the New York Times that military doctors were also well-suited for the job because they were first responders, and “White House medicine [is] like practicing battlefield medicine”.
Dr Conley, from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2002 before studying osteopathic medicine at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He received his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree in 2006.
The professional doctoral degree is different from a Doctor of Medicine degree. Osteopathic medicine takes a more holistic approach to treatment with a focus on lifestyle and environmental factors.
But unlike in the UK, in the US the training for osteopathic doctors is largely similar to that of conventionally trained medical doctors. They must meet the same requirements to practise medicine, and are legally licensed to do so in all 50 US states. They are also free to prescribe drugs.
After further courses at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 2014 Dr Conley served as the chief of trauma with a Nato medical unit in Afghanistan. He received a Romanian Emblem of Honour for saving a Romanian soldier injured by an improvised explosive device.
The US Navy officer was later assigned to the White House Medical Unit. He became Mr Trump’s acting personal doctor in March 2018 when the president nominated his then-physician, Dr Ronny Jackson, to head the US Department of Veteran Affairs.
Dr Jackson later withdrew from the nomination after being described as “flat-out unethical” in a document released by Democrats. Dr Conley officially took the role of Mr Trump’s personal doctor in May 2018.
What has Conley said about Trump’s health in the past?
In February 2019 he oversaw a team of 11 doctors during Mr Trump’s physical examination. He announced the president was in “very good health”, adding: “I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his presidency, and beyond.”
He released no further information about the four-hour examination, the New York Times reported.
The health of the oldest man ever sworn in for a first term as president has drawn great attention.
When Mr Trump went to hospital for an unscheduled visit in November 2019, Dr Conley released a memo calling it a “routine, planned interim check-up”. There were rumours Mr Trump had experienced chest pain, an allegation his personal doctor dismissed.
Is Trump taking Hydroxychloroquine?
Dr Conley told reporters on Saturday that the president had not been taking hydroxychloroquine as part of his Covid-19 treatment.
In May this year, the president announced he was taking hydroxychloroquine to ward off the coronavirus. After this revelation Dr Conley came under the spotlight, saying that he had concluded “the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks”.
A vast global study concluded there was no evidence the drug could fight coronavirus.
The announcement raised eyebrows at the time. It remains unclear whether the president’s doctor explicitly prescribed the medication.