- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

Former President Bill Clinton successfully underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery yesterday in New York to reroute his blood flow around some coronary arteries that were more than 90 percent blocked by fatty deposits.

Without the operation, Mr. Clinton, 58, likely would have suffered a major heart attack, doctors said after the operation.

“He is recovering normally at this point. I think right now everything looks straightforward,” said Dr. Craig R. Smith, who led the 15-member medical team at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia during the surgery.

The four-hour procedure began at 8 a.m., and Mr. Clinton was wheeled out of the operating room at about noon, Dr. Smith said. Physicians at a 4 p.m. press conference called the surgery “routine.”

“It would be common for a person who’s had bypass surgery to leave the hospital in four or five days. I have no reason to think” that Mr. Clinton could not do so, said Dr. Smith, chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center Department of Surgery at New York-Presbyterian.

Physicians said the 42nd president can expect a full recovery and normal longevity.

“Seventy percent of patients are back to base line in six weeks,” the lead surgeon said. He added that it could take three months “to be 100 percent.”

He called his patient “extraordinarily healthy,” adding: “I’d encourage him to renew all aspects of activity, including campaigning.”

Dr. Allan Schwartz, chief of the Division of Cardiology at New York-Presbyterian, said the bypass surgery was vital for Mr. Clinton and could not have been delayed.

“He had extensive blockage in each of the blood vessels that supply the heart …; several of the vessels were blocked well over 90 percent. There was a substantial likelihood he would have had a substantial heart attack in the near future. That’s why there was the rush,” he said.

New York-Presbyterian is renowned for its heart-surgery capabilities and was ranked among the nation’s 10 leading hospitals overall this year by U.S. News & World Report.

Mr. Clinton checked into New York-Presbyterian on Friday, one day after going to Northern Westchester Hospital near his home in Chappaqua, N.Y., with complaints of mild chest pain and shortness of breath.

Dr. Schwartz said the first evidence of Mr. Clinton’s cardiovascular problems occurred several months ago, when he began to notice a shortness of breath after physical activity. As a result, he said, Mr. Clinton began to take daily rest periods.

The surgeon said the former president did not undergo surgery over the weekend because he was on blood-thinning medication (Plavix) when he arrived at the hospital. He said cardiac specialists felt it would be “safest to wait” until all the blood thinner had been discharged from Mr. Clinton’s body “to greatly reduce the chance of bleeding” during the operation.

At the start of the press conference, Dr. Smith read a statement from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, and the couple’s daughter, Chelsea, in which they “thanked God” for the good care that the medical team provided Mr. Clinton.

“It’s been quite an emotional roller coaster for us, and that’s why we’re so grateful,” the message said.

In bypass surgery, doctors remove one or more blood vessels from elsewhere in a patient’s body and attach them to arteries serving the heart, detouring blood around the blockage. The hospital said surgeons took one vessel from Mr. Clinton’s left leg and the other three from his chest wall.

Mr. Clinton primarily blamed the blockage on genetics — his mother’s family has a history of heart disease. But he acknowledged that his penchant for high-fat junk food means that he “may have done some damage when I was too careless about what I ate.”

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

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