By RON FOURNIER
WASHINGTON – Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney suffered a “very slight heart attack” early this morning and underwent surgery, doctors said. His hospitalization threw George W. Bush an unexpected curve in the midst of a political crisis over the Florida presidential vote count.
Cheney, 59, had suffered chest pains and checked into George Washington University Hospital before dawn today.
Doctors performed minimally invasive surgery to insert a stent into a heart artery that had narrowed to restore full blood flow. The procedure, begun at about 10:30 a.m. EST, took two hours and did not require general anesthesia.
Throughout the day, the Bush campaign and doctors at the hospital had insisted that Cheney had not suffered a heart attack.
“Dick Cheney is healthy. He did not have a heart attack,” Bush told reporters in Texas even while his running mate was undergoing surgery, which the Republican presidential nominee did not mention.
Doctors knew by noon that Cheney had suffered a heart attack but did not disclose it at their first news conference at 2:30 p.m. EST. They waited until a second news conference more than two hours later to disclose Cheney’s true condition.
“There was a very slight heart attack,” Dr. Alan Wasserman, a professor of medicine and cardiology at the hospital, told reporters.
An initial blood test and an electrocardiogram did not show signs of a heart attack, but a second blood test showed elevated cardiac enzymes that indicated a small heart attack had occurred, Wasserman said.
Doctors did not change their prognosis, however, saying Cheney was doing well and would remain at the hospital two or three days. They downplayed the possibility that Cheney would need more extensive treatment.
“It would be exceedingly unlikely for him to undergo a repeat bypass operation,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner, Cheney’s personal physician, told reporters.
Cheney suffered three heart attacks more than a decade ago and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 1988 to clear clogged arteries. Doctors gave him a clean bill of health when Bush chose him as his running mate in June.
The stent put into Cheney is a scaffold-like device that doctors thread up into an artery to prop open artery walls. Stents work well for many patients, but 20 percent to 30 percent of the time, the artery can reclog, particularly in patients like Cheney with a long history of heart disease.
Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes said today that before Cheney was selected for the race, he had told the Bush campaign that he had gone to the hospital from time to time to be examined after experiencing chest pains.
She did not say how often Cheney had experienced chest pains that required medical attention, revealing only that he had not had any episodes since he was chosen to be Bush’s running mate.
Cheney’s wife, Lynne, was with him when he was admitted to the hospital early today, and she remained there.
His illness occurred only hours after the Florida Supreme Court late Tuesday overruled Bush’s lawyers and allowed Florida election officials to continue manual recounts in the state’s critical presidential elections.
Cheney had not played a major role in the public relations battle over the disputed results in Bush’s race against Democrat Al Gore, but had been involved in early transition work. The news of his health problems threw the Bush campaign off balance and raised unwelcome questions about the stability of the GOP ticket.
But Bush seemed buoyant when he spoke about his running mate.
“I was so pleased to hear his voice this morning. He sounded strong and vibrant,” he said, adding, “Secretary Cheney will make a great vice president.”
Asked whether the campaign was making contingency plans in case the illness sidelined Cheney, Hughes demurred, saying only: “We’re hearing very encouraging reports that he’s doing very well.”
President Clinton said he hopes Cheney will be “well and fine” and told reporters he planned to call and write him a note. “I hope he’s fine,” he said.
Cheney had three heart attacks and quadruple cardiac bypass surgery before turning 50, but recently said he now leads an “extraordinarily vigorous lifestyle.” Cheney has said he quit smoking, exercises regularly and takes medicine to lower his cholesterol.
His first heart attack, at age 37, was in 1978. He had a second in 1984 and a third in 1988. All were described as mild. In August of 1988, Cheney underwent the bypass surgery because of arterial blockages.
Reiner said earlier in the presidential campaign that Cheney’s cardiac stress tests “have been stable and unchanged for the past several years.”
Cheney had a cold in the weeks before the election but otherwise was in good health throughout a strenuous fall campaign. Reporters covering him inquired repeatedly about his health because of persistent Internet rumors that Cheney had been hospitalized for health ailments. Cheney would laugh off the rumors and said he was in good health.
Over the course of the campaign, the Cheney campaign turned down media requests to release his complete medical records – as other candidates had done.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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