Secrecy surrounds Yeltsin surgery Eminent U.S. physician arrives for discussion of impending operation


MOSCOW -- Dr. Michael DeBakey, the U.S. heart surgery pioneer, arrived here yesterday for a meeting with Boris N. Yeltsin's doctors on today to clear the Russian president for a heart bypass operation.

But Russian officials, maintaining a wall of secrecy, whisked DeBakey away before he could speak to reporters waiting at Moscow's Sheremetevo airport.

In interviews from his office at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston last week, DeBakey said that if tests confirmed that Yeltsin was fit for the operation, it could be performed as early as Wednesday. However, in sharp contrast to DeBakey's specificity, a Kremlin spokesman was deliberately vague yesterday about the timing of the operation, saying it could happen anytime in the next several weeks.

The Kremlin's vagueness seemed to be in keeping with the wishes of Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko. DeBakey said that she had asked that no news releases or interviews be permitted until after the operation.

A health worker involved in Yeltsin's care said yesterday that the president looks healthy, is in good spirits and often cracks jokes with his doctors, and that preparations have been made for the operation this week.

Yeltsin's wife, Naina, said in a television interview Saturday: "Of course he is worried, but he is outwardly calm. He has a good contact with his doctors."

DeBakey said last week that he advised his Russian colleagues not to clamp down on information about the impending operation because such a policy could easily lead to false rumors.

In the past, rumors that Yeltsin was incapacitated by a stroke or even was dead have affected international stock markets.

The hush-hush atmosphere in Moscow yesterday contrasted to DeBakey's arrival six weeks ago when he spoke to reporters before he examined Yeltsin.

DeBakey was the first independent international consultant in Yeltsin's case.

At a news conference after his examination, DeBakey greatly eased world concern over Yeltsin's health, by saying he expected that the 65-year-old leader would be ready for a multivessel coronary bypass operation in six to 10 weeks if unassociated medical problems cleared up.

Yeltsin's medical problems included a severe anemia, bleeding from the intestine and an under-active thyroid.

All these problems have cleared up with medical treatment, although direct examination of Yeltsin's stomach and colon through fiber-optic tubes did not identify a precise source of the bleeding, DeBakey said.

The doctors also wanted to give Yeltsin a few more weeks for his heart function to improve after it had declined after a heart attack that was stopped in progress last summer. Indeed, Yeltsin's heart function has improved according to a standard ultrasound test, DeBakey said.

DeBakey said he would not take part in Yeltsin's operation.

Before Yeltsin is wheeled into the operating room, he will temporarily hand over power to his trusted prime minister, Viktor S. Chernomyrdin.

The Kremlin has given no word on how long the transfer of power will last.

Pub Date: 11/04/96

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