Doctors call Yeltsin's surgery success full recovery predicted

Seven-hour operation involved more than expected 3 or 4 bypasses

November 06, 1996|By Clara Germani | Clara Germani,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW THE ASSOCIATED PRESS AND SUN STAFF WRITER JONATHAN BOR CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — MOSCOW -- Boris N. Yeltsin reclaimed his presidential powers early today, just 24 hours after coming through a seven-hour heart bypass operation with what doctors said were good prospects for recovery and a return to Kremlin work.

It's the prognosis presidential aides have hoped will end months of doubt about Yeltsin's ability to govern.

"I find it a great pleasure to confirm that the operation was a complete success," said Dr. Michael DeBakey, the American heart expert who was a consultant on the case.

"On the basis of the results of the operation, I would predict the president to be able to return to his office and perform his duty in perfectly normal fashion," DeBakey said.

Looking tired but pleased at a postoperative news conference, chief surgeon Dr. Renat Akchurin said the surgery had gone well, without any unexpected problems. But he indicated that Yeltsin's operation involved more than the three or four bypasses that had been expected.

"The number of bypasses is much more than the figure [three or four] you mentioned," he told reporters. But he would not say how many, adding that it is a private issue for Yeltsin himself to disclose.

But Dr. George Noon of Houston, who observed the operation, said later that Yeltsin had five bypasses.

Akchurin said that Yeltsin's heart had been stopped during the operation for 68 minutes and that Yeltsin was put on a heart-lung machine. The surgeon said that he did not expect the effects of anesthetic to wear off fully until today and that Yeltsin would be on a respirator for a day or two.

Yeltsin virtually disappeared from the Kremlin after suffering a third heart attack toward the end of his lively but grueling presidential campaign in June. The power vacuum has caused bitter Kremlin infighting.

Just before his surgery began at 7 a.m. yesterday, Yeltsin signed a decree handing temporary control of Russia to Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin. Yeltsin signed the decree returning his powers at 6 a.m. today, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said.

Akchurin said the president could return to work after six to eight weeks of rest.

Yeltsin was reportedly confident and joking with doctors before the surgery, which was carried out by a team of 12 Russian doctors, including four surgeons.

"I'm not going to stay in the hospital bed for too long," Yeltsin said before the operation. "I believe that I soon will be working as before at full strength."

The surgical team was led by Akchurin, who had trained with DeBakey in the United States. DeBakey and a team of American and German surgeons watched on a monitor outside the operating room in case advice was needed.

Each bypass involves taking a vein or artery from elsewhere in the body and using it to divert blood around a blocked artery near the heart, thus improving the supply of blood.

Although coronary bypass surgery is a highly technical procedure, it is routinely performed around the world and is relatively safe.

But there can be postoperative complications -- such as infection, bleeding, stroke and pneumonia -- which Yeltsin's cardiologists will be guarding against, said Dr. Michael Fisher, director of clinical cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Yeltsin's surgery and the uncertainty surrounding it had seemed not only a test of the president's own physical powers but of Russia's constitutional order.

Aside from a general sense of nervousness about the president's survival on the operating table, the power transfer was calm and the flow of information was strikingly smooth.

It was not

much more than a decade ago that the Kremlin was keeping Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko's illness a secret until he was headed for burial.

And it was just four months ago that the Kremlin hid the president's third heart attack in a year, allowing the public only brief taped glimpses of a wooden Yeltsin stiffly performing his duties.

But at midnight Monday, the Kremlin announced on television that the surgery would start at 7 a.m. and a message from Yeltsin aimed at bucking the nation up was delivered.

Throughout the seven-hour surgery, Yastrzhembsky kept the news media apprised of its progress. The surgical team was brought before the media right after the operation.

Yastrzhembsky even joked about the disbelief reporters had of the Kremlin's new openness, saying, "I would note with some glee that it took us about 30 minutes to persuade [the Russian news agency] Interfax to publish the report" that surgery had begun.

During the surgery, the Kremlin presidential offices were as sedate as on any ordinary day. The mood among the presidential staff was simply "hopeful," said Yeltsin political aide Giorgy Satarov, who was visibly tense yesterday.

Satarov was critical of speculation, particularly in the Western press, about Yeltsin perhaps being sicker than he was and that Russia was on the brink of chaos.

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