- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Former President Bill Clinton will undergo elective surgery tomorrow to remove scar tissue and fluid that has built up since his quadruple bypass heart surgery last year. But today he’s off to Florida to play 18 holes of golf with former President George Bush.

Mr. Clinton, 58, made light of his condition, calling it “no big deal,” as he and Mr. Bush delivered a report to President Bush on their recent goodwill trip to areas of Southeast Asia devastated by a tsunami in December. And the current president couldn’t help needling his predecessor.

“President Clinton and President Bush are going to play golf tomorrow to raise money for the tsunami victims — which goes to show how sick he is,” said Mr. Bush, drawing laughter from the two former presidents in the Oval Office.

The 80-year-old former President Bush also ribbed his former adversary. “You should have seen him going town to town, country to country, the Energizer Bunny here. He killed me. So this thing, whatever he’s got, if it knocks you out, it hasn’t gotten to him yet.”

Said Mr. Clinton: “I feel fine. … I felt well enough to go to Asia to try to keep up with President Bush, and we’re going to go play golf tomorrow, so I’m not in too bad a shape. I feel good about it.”

Mr. Clinton’s doctors described the procedure as routine, although the complication is unusual after heart surgery. In the operation, called decortication, surgeons will remove scar tissue that developed as a result of fluid and inflammation, which has caused compression and collapse of the lower lobe of the left lung. The surgery will be done either through a half-inch incision or with a video-assisted thoracoscope inserted between ribs, Mr. Clinton’s office said.

Afterward, the former president will spend three to 10 days in the hospital, depending on the success of the procedure.

“I found this condition when I did my regular tests, and they said I was in the top 5 percent of men my age in health,” he said. “But they took a routine X-ray and found out that I had a lot of fluid buildup here, which is quite rare once the fluid goes down. And so all they have to do is drain it.”

Dr. Craig Smith, chief of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s division of cardiothoracic surgery, where the operation will be performed, said in nearly 6,000 cases like Mr. Clinton’s, he had seen only 10 cases that required the follow-up surgery. “This is the extremely unusual end result of an extremely common process,” he said.

The doctors said Mr. Clinton’s busy schedule and trip to Asia had not contributed to his need for the surgery. “Before he took his trip we were aware of this,” said Dr. Allan Schwartz, chief of the hospital’s division of cardiology, at a press conference in New York.

In the Oval Office, President Bush expressed gratitude to his father and Mr. Clinton for taking the goodwill mission to Asia. “I want to thank both leaders for really showing the world how much we care. I think the world is beginning to see a different impression of America,” he said.

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