Jack Welch talks about his health scare

The legendary CEO leaves the hospital after a three-month stay.

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By Jennifer Reingold, senior writer

Jack Welch, former chairman of GE, at Boston University School of Management in April 2009.
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NEW YORK (Fortune) -- After 92 days in the hospital battling discitis -- a spinal infection so serious that the doctors were worried he might not make it and newspapers began preparing his obituary -- former GE CEO Jack Welch, 73, has finally gone home.

Late last night, he was released from Columbia Presbyterian, where he'd been since early July. In an exclusive interview, Welch says he's doing fine and says he'll be in fighting shape within three months.

"I sure as hell want to have a lot of fun," he said this morning before heading out to his favorite lunch spot, Fred's, in Manhattan. His voice was raspy and weak, but the old fight was there; he assured Fortune he'll make it to a Red Sox playoff game and that the Jack Welch Business Institute, the online MBA program he announced with great fanfare in June, would be moving ahead very soon. "There was a delay of game," he said, "but the school is going to launch in January."

Although the extent of his illness wasn't widely reported, a look at the Twitter activity of Welch and his wife, Suzy Welch, shows just how grave the legendary CEO's condition became.

"That sound you hear is me exhaling for the first time in 22 days," Suzy tweeted on July 22. "My beloved @jack_welch seems to be beating back his staph. Thank you God!"

The infection, which Welch thinks was caused by a dirty needle from a cortisone shot he took to help him play golf, not only spread through his spine, but also to his artificial right shoulder, which had to be surgically cleaned out.

He says he was on hefty painkillers, including morphine, for months -- a tough thing to imagine for anyone who knows how frenetic he is. (Tweeted Suzy on August 4: "Watching TV together at hospital have discovered my beloved @jack_welch not even a little excited about Shark Week. It must be the drugs.")

Over time, however, the tweets show him slowly getting his mojo back. "Still in hospital but a bit better everyday," he wrote in late July. "Thx for notes and prayers. Huge lift for me and @Suzy_Welch. Now we just have to fix Red Sox."

"@Jack Welch must be getting better," Suzy deadpanned on July 29th. "He just asked a doctor, 'So, how does your business model work?'"

At a time when so many business leaders have been brought down by poor performance, corruption or jail, it's nice to know that Welch isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

"He still represents a gold standard in thinking about key principles of leadership," says Michael Useem, management professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who remembers being at a special CEO-only summit a few years back and watching 50-odd chief executives stand patiently in line to have Welch autograph a copy of his book. "Jack's ideas are not dead." Fortunately, it doesn't seem the man himself is going anywhere anytime soon, either.

Jack is baaacck! To top of page

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