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 seemingly contradictory messages raised concerns about how transparent the White House was really being over the president’s health at a crucial time for the country.
Dr Sean Conley has served as Mr Trump’s personal physician since March 2018 and before now has rarely been in the spotlight.
But with the world’s media at the doors of Walter Reed military hospital, awaiting any news of the president’s health, the US Navy officer is now firmly in focus.
Who is Trump’s doctor?
Dr Sean Conley is a native of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The 40-year-old 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 Honor 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.
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.
As the oldest man ever sworn in for a first term as president, Mr Trump’s health has drawn great focus.
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.
Dr Conley first came to prominence in May this year, when the president announced he was taking hydroxychloroquine to ward off the coronavirus.
“After numerous discussions he and I had regarding the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine, we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks,” Dr Conley said at the time.
A vast global study concluded there was no evidence the drug can fight coronavirus.
The announcement raised eyebrows at the time. It remains unclear whether the president’s doctor explicitly prescribed the medication.
Dr Conley told reporters on Saturday that the president had not been taking hydroxychloroquine as part of his Covid-19 treatment. But he left many other questions unanswered, refusing repeatedly to say whether the president had received supplemental oxygen.
Mr Trump had in fact been given oxygen on Friday at the White House, although exactly why remains unconfirmed.
The Navy officer was forced later to clarify the timeline of his only patient’s coronavirus case, shortly after giving his statement to the press.
While he had said at the news conference 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.