Cheney has surgery to clear artery

Vice president enters hospital after 4 bouts of chest pain

`Much milder, very brief'

Further tests needed to tell if he suffered a fifth heart attack

March 06, 2001|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney, who has suffered four heart attacks, checked himself into a hospital yesterday after complaining of chest pains and underwent surgery to clear a partially blocked artery.

Doctors said Cheney would remain overnight at George Washington University Hospital and probably be released today. A White House spokesman said that Cheney and his doctors would then decide when the vice president will return to work.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, Cheney's cardiologist, said that "as of now," the vice president did not appear to have suffered another heart attack. But Reiner said a final determination would have to await further tests.

The 60-year-old vice president suffered his most recent heart attack in November, after which Reiner and other physicians inserted a small wire-mesh tube, known as a "stent," to unclog a coronary artery. The area around this stent had became blocked again and caused Cheney to suffer four mild bouts of chest pain since Saturday, doctors said.

Doctors described the pain this time as "much milder and very brief" compared with the chest pains Cheney suffered in November during what doctors called a "very slight" heart attack.

There is about a 40 percent chance that the same artery will narrow again in the next few months, Reiner said. But the doctor said he saw no reason to think that the vice president could not resume his full duties.

"I wish I could predict the future," Reiner said. "I think there's a very high likelihood that he can finish out his term in his extremely vigorous capacity."

In the first few weeks of the Bush administration, Cheney has become an extraordinarily active vice president and an influential adviser to the president on numerous matters, notably on national security, relations with Congress and staffing. As a former defense secretary who served under Bush's father, Cheney wields particular influence over issues involving defense and foreign policy.

Call from Bush

Last night, Bush placed a five-minute call to Cheney in the hospital. White House officials reported that during their conversation, Cheney told Bush that "he was feeling fine and looked forward to returning to work."

Aides said that since his heart attack in November, Cheney has felt generally healthy, lost weight, kept to a rigorous regimen of diet and exercise, and worked out several times a week on fitness equipment at home.

Here is how doctors and aides described the complications involving Cheney's health that surfaced over the past several days:

On Thursday, the vice president had what doctors described as a routine follow-up exam, in which he underwent an electrocardiogram. Physicians said they saw nothing to concern them.

On Saturday, Cheney suffered his first chest pains, shortly after working out on the exercise equipment at the vice presidential residence. He suffered a second episode of pain on Sunday afternoon.

Earlier Sunday, when Cheney was asked during an interview with CNN how he was feeling, he did not mention the chest pain he had experienced a day earlier. Instead, he responded: "Well, I feel great. I am well-behaved. They've taken control of my food supply. So, I'm trying to do all those things you need do to be a responsible individual with a history of coronary artery disease and somebody who's 60 years old. So far, so good."

The vice president attended a birthday party for Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan on Sunday night.

Yesterday, Cheney suffered two additional waves of pain, one in the morning and one in the early afternoon. Aides said Cheney had kept to his schedule, holding several morning meetings, including one with a group of journalists at noon, then meeting with Bush.

But by midafternoon, after telling the president about his chest pain and speaking with his doctors, Cheney traveled by motorcade from the White House to the hospital, where he walked in under his own power at 3:30 p.m.

Later in the afternoon, Bush was peppered with questions from reporters about Cheney's condition. The president confirmed that the vice president had gone to the hospital, describing it as a "precautionary measure."

Playing down concerns

White House officials moved hastily yesterday to play down concerns, releasing a statement in which Mary Matalin, a senior advisor to Cheney, said that doctors were performing a "nonemergency precautionary procedure."

Last night, at George Washington University Hospital, Reiner presided over a news conference in which he was joined by other doctors. They answered questions at length and in detail, in contrast with a session with reporters in November, when the same doctors failed to mention that Cheney had suffered his fourth heart attack.

Reiner said that Cheney's procedure, known as an angioplasty, took about 90 minutes and involved inflating a tiny balloon within Cheney's stent to clear the blockage that had formed. He described the procedure not as an emergency but as "urgent."

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