- The Washington Times - Friday, October 1, 2004

LONDON — British Prime Minister Tony Blair underwent a successful operation yesterday to correct an irregular heartbeat and was recovering at home, a hospital official said.

Simon Wilde, a spokesman for Hammersmith Hospital in west London, also said Mr. Blair would have a “rapid and complete recovery” and there was a low risk the problem would recur.

“The procedure was successful in eliminating the atrial flutter,” Mr. Wilde said.

Medical experts said the 21/2-hour operation, carried out under local anesthetic, was a safe, routine procedure. Aides have stressed that Mr. Blair will be back at his desk Monday and intends to go ahead with a planned trip to Africa on Tuesday.

“I think today our thoughts are with Mr. Blair, with his family and with the recovery that everybody hopes that he has from this operation,” Treasury chief Gordon Brown told the British Broadcasting Corp. from Washington, where he is attending the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund.

Mr. Blair, 51, looked relaxed as he was driven away from his Downing Street residence, accompanied by his wife, Cherie, in an official car at about 7:05 a.m. yesterday. He told reporters he felt fine.

“It’s a sort of fluttering. It doesn’t stop you working, and indeed I’ve been working the last couple of months since it happened,” Mr. Blair said Thursday night, just hours after appearing onstage for the closing ceremony of his Labor Party’s annual convention. “I’m going to go in and have this routine operation.”

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott stood in for Mr. Blair while he underwent the operation.

Mr. Prescott stressed that Mr. Blair, who announced Thursday he intends to serve another five years, is still up to the job and could serve a third term if his party wins national elections expected next year.

Mr. Blair’s condition is called supraventricular tachycardia. It is caused by rapid electrical activity in the upper parts of the heart and results in a sometimes irregular, rapid heartbeat.

The procedure involves inserting a catheter through the groin and up to the heart, where radio-frequency energy is used to kill off the cells conducting the extra impulses.

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