- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 4, 2004

Former President Bill Clinton will undergo cardiac bypass surgery next week after tests found evidence of coronary artery blockage.

Mr. Clinton, 58, noted for his love of junk food during his years in the White House, was taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia in Upper Manhattan, one of the nation’s foremost heart hospitals, yesterday morning and will undergo surgery there sometime next week. Doctors said he had not had a heart attack, despite suffering chest pains.

Calling into CNN’s “Larry King — Live” from his hospital bed last night, Mr. Clinton said he was looking forward to completing the surgery and resuming his normal activities.

“Let me just say this, Republicans aren’t the only people who want four more years here,” he quipped.

Speaking to reporters last night, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, said her husband is “doing very well,” and in “great humor.”

He will have heart surgery early in the week, though she did not say when. The medical team will provide information after the surgery, but no further information will be given before then, she added.

“He’s going to be fine and he’ll be back in fighting form before really very long,” Mrs. Clinton said, repeatedly expressing her husband’s gratitude for the outpouring of care and concern he’s received from the public.

Before leaving the microphones, Mrs. Clinton couldn’t resist the temptation to inject at least a little politics into the situation. She said she and her husband are “delighted” that they have good health insurance and hope that someday everyone will be able to say the same thing.

According to Mr. Clinton’s Harlem office in New York City, Mr. Clinton went to Northern Westchester Hospital near his home in Chappaqua, N.Y., on Thursday afternoon after experiencing mild chest pains and shortness of breath. Several tests were conducted and returned normal results, sending Mr. Clinton home. After follow-up tests yesterday, doctors advised him to have bypass surgery.

Mr. Clinton was then taken to New York Presbyterian, one of the nation’s leading heart hospitals.

The medical problems prompted the 42nd president to cancel plans to campaign with his wife in upstate New York yesterday and today. He was scheduled to meet up with his wife the New York State Fair. Instead, Mrs. Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea, returned to New York City to be with the former president.

President Bush, who was on the campaign trail in the Midwest yesterday, called Mr. Clinton and wished him well.

“We send him our best wishes for a swift and speedy recovery,” the president said in West Allis, Wis.

At the Democratic National Convention in Boston last month, Mr. Clinton vowed to be a “foot soldier” in the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry.

While campaigning in Ohio yesterday, Mr. Kerry sent Mr. Clinton “our best wishes, our prayers, our thoughts.”

“He’s going to be fine,” the senator said. “But every single one of us wants to extend to him our best wishes, our prayers and our thoughts and I want you all to let a cheer out and clap that he can hear all the way to New York.”

During his two terms as president, Mr. Clinton was often lampooned for his love of junk food, such as cheeseburgers, fries and cheese-steak subs.

At least one sub shop chain in the D.C. area ran radio commercials that used a person imitating Mr. Clinton’s Arkansas twang posing as a customer, calling up to order a sub and saying, “Give me the cheese.”

It’s known that Mr. Clinton had slightly elevated cholesterol and that he battled weight problems during his White House years. But he showed no signs of heart problems during rigorous health examinations that were made public while he was president.

The 6-foot-2 Mr. Clinton recently shed pounds using the popular “South Beach Diet,” which encourages a balance of healthy carbohydrates and protein while lowering sugar intake, and working out with a personal trainer.

Heart bypass surgery is one of the most common major operations in the United States, with approximately 350,000 performed annually.

The procedure is intimidating because it involves cracking open the chest and cutting through the breast bone. Dr. Irving Kron, surgery chairman at the University of Virginia Health System, said, “Most people who have no other health problems do just fine.”

In fact, he said, “About half the people I operate on wake up after bypass surgery and ask when they will have the surgery.” He said the pain experienced is less than many expect, “because we don’t cut through muscle.”

He said the mortality rate in bypass surgery for patients who have no other medical problems is typically between 1 percent and 3 percent.

Dr. Kron said most bypass patients leave the hospital after four to five days and spend another three to five weeks recuperating. If all goes well, he said, Mr. Clinton should be back to full health by next month.

In bypass surgery, surgeons use a section of artery or vein from the leg or other parts of the body to reroute the blood flow around the heart. The replacement blood vessel serves as a detour, diverting the blood around the blockage.

As for claims that Mr. Clinton will undergo a quadruple bypass, Dr. Kron said that’s possible, given that patients whose blood vessels are blocked in just one or two places typically undergo a procedure known as angioplasty, rather than bypass surgery.

In angioplasty, doctors open a clogged vessel by snaking a thin instrument through the arteries. They often prop open blood vessels with metal scaffolding called stents. Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a history of heart trouble, has such a stent.

Amy Fagan contributed to this report.

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