Former first lady Barbara Bush, who was reported in "failing health" over the weekend, is in "great spirits" and the family is grateful for "everybody's prayers and thoughts," her granddaughter said yesterday.

Bush family spokesman Jim McGrath said in a news release on Sunday that "Mrs Bush, now age 92, has decided not to seek additional medical treatment and will instead focus on comfort care" at home in Houston following consultations with her doctors and family.

Barbara Bush kisses her husband at the premiere of HBO's new documentary on his life near the family compound on June 12, 2012. Photo / AP
Barbara Bush kisses her husband at the premiere of HBO's new documentary on his life near the family compound on June 12, 2012. Photo / AP

McGrath did not elaborate on the nature of Bush's health problems but yesterday said she's suffered in recent years from congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She also has been treated for decades for Graves' disease, which is a thyroid condition, had heart surgery in 2009 for a severe narrowing of her main heart valve and was hospitalised a year before that for surgery on a perforated ulcer.

Jenna Bush Hager, an anchor on NBC's Today show, told the programme yesterday morning that Bush is resting comfortably with family.

Advertisement

"She's a fighter. She's an enforcer," Hager said, using the family's nickname for her grandmother. "We're grateful for her, for everybody's prayers and thoughts, and just know the world is better because she is in it."

The then first lady Barbara Bush reacts after President George H.W. Bush accidentally stepped on her toe while boarding Air Force One in this September 22, 1989 photo. Photo / AP
The then first lady Barbara Bush reacts after President George H.W. Bush accidentally stepped on her toe while boarding Air Force One in this September 22, 1989 photo. Photo / AP

"We are grateful for her. She's the best grandma anybody could have ever had ... or have," she said.

Bush is one of only two first ladies who was also the mother of a president. The other was Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, the nation's second president, and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president.

Bush married George H.W. Bush on January 6, 1945. They had six children and have been married longer than any presidential couple in American history.

The former first couple pictured at the Tennis Masters Cup tournament in Houston on November 16, 2004. Photo / AP
The former first couple pictured at the Tennis Masters Cup tournament in Houston on November 16, 2004. Photo / AP

Eight years after she and her husband left the White House, Mrs Bush stood with her husband as their son George W. was sworn in as the 43rd president.

Hager said the former president "still says, 'I love you Barbie' every night," describing their grandparents' close relationship as "remarkable."

McGrath said Bush was concerned more for her family than herself.

"It will not surprise those who know her that Barbara Bush has been a rock in the face of her failing health, worrying not for herself — thanks to her abiding faith — but for others," he said.

Former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush pictured in September 2004. Photo / AP
Former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush pictured in September 2004. Photo / AP

President Donald Trump's press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement Sunday evening that "the President's and first lady's prayers are with all of the Bush family during this time."

Bush is known for her white hair and her triple-strand fake pearl necklace.

Her brown hair began to grey in the 1950s, while her 3-year-old daughter Pauline, known to her family as Robin, underwent treatment for leukemia and eventually died in October 1953. She later said dyed hair didn't look good on her and credited the colour to the public's perception of her as "everybody's grandmother."

Her pearls sparked a national fashion trend when she wore them to her husband's inauguration in 1989. The pearls became synonymous with Bush, who later said she selected them to hide the wrinkles in her neck. The candid admission only bolstered her common sense and down-to-earth public image.

Her 93-year-old husband, the nation's 41st president who served from 1989 to 1993, also has had health issues in recent years. In April 2017, he was hospitalised in Houston for two weeks for a mild case of pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. He was hospitalised months earlier, also for pneumonia. He has a form of Parkinson's disease and uses a motorised scooter or a wheelchair for mobility.

George H.W. Bush, when he was vice president, with Barbara Bush holding the family dog in September 1988. Photo / AP
George H.W. Bush, when he was vice president, with Barbara Bush holding the family dog in September 1988. Photo / AP

Before being president, he served as a congressman, CIA director and Ronald Reagan's vice president.

Barbara Pierce Bush was born June 8, 1925, in Rye, New York. Her father was the publisher of McCall's and Redbook magazines. She and George H.W. Bush married when she was 19 and while he was a young naval aviator. After World War II, the Bushes moved to Texas where he went into the oil business.

Along with her memoirs, she's the author of C. Fred's Story and Millie's Book, based on the lives of her dogs. Proceeds from the books benefited adult and family literacy programs. The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy began during her White House years with the goal of improving the lives of disadvantaged Americans by boosting literacy among parents and their children. The foundation partners with local programs and had awarded more than $40 million as of 2014 to create or expand more than 1500 literacy programmes nationwide.

- AP