Former Vice President Dick Cheney had a heart transplant on Saturday after 20 months on a waiting list, and was recovering in a Virginia hospital, a statement from his office said.
Mr. Cheney, 71, who has suffered five heart attacks and was in end-stage heart failure, was recovering in the intensive care unit of Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va.
“Although the former vice president and his family do not know the identity of the donor, they will be forever grateful for this lifesaving gift,” said the statement from an aide, Kara Ahern. Mr. Cheney and his family thanked doctors and staff at that hospital and at George Washington University Hospital in Washington for “their continued outstanding care,” the statement said.
Mr. Cheney’s wait for a new heart was not unusual, though it appeared to be longer than the average wait, which has varied in recent years from six months to a year, according to several studies. In June 2010, 3,153 patients were on the waiting list for a heart transplant and 80 were awaiting a heart-lung transplant, the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation reported last year.
Patients on the list generally have to be ready to rush to the hospital when a suitable donor is found, so there is little notice before a transplant takes place. It is not unusual for recipients not to know the identity of their donor; notification is determined by the rules of organ donation networks and the wishes of the donor’s family.
In 2010, the former vice president had a left ventricular assist device, a battery-powered heart pump, implanted by surgeons. Intended as a temporary measure to keep Mr. Cheney alive until he could get a donated heart, it was the latest in a series of operations over several decades on his heart and leg veins. He suffered his first heart attack at the age of 37 in 1978, as he was campaigning for Congress; a decade later, he underwent quadruple bypass surgery.
In public appearances since he left office in 2009, Mr. Cheney has appeared gaunt and increasingly frail. Last August, he published an autobiography, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” written with the help of his daughter Liz Cheney, in which he reports that a team of doctors assessed his heart condition before President George W. Bush chose him as his vice presidential running mate. He also describes writing a letter of resignation shortly after taking office and giving it to his counsel, David S. Addington, to be delivered to Mr. Bush if he were incapacitated.
In a government career with few parallels, Mr. Cheney, who was vice president for all eight years of Mr. Bush’s presidency, has been chief of staff to President Gerald Ford, represented Wyoming in Congress and served as defense secretary under President George H. W. Bush.
He is widely considered to have been among the most powerful vice presidents in American history, working behind the scenes on policies as varied as energy and counterterrorism and advocating an aggressive assertion of presidential power.
He was a lightning rod for critics of the Bush administration, and his influence as vice president during Mr. Bush’s second term was considerably diminished. But he remains a revered icon of the political right and the Republican Party and has been one of the Obama administration’s toughest critics, speaking out regularly despite his fragile health.
There were no advance news reports of the transplant, but it did not come entirely as a surprise. On NBC’s “Today” show in January 2011, Mr. Cheney discussed his heart pump and said he might need a transplant.
“I’ll have to make a decision at some point whether or not I want to go for a transplant,” Mr. Cheney said, “but we haven’t addressed that yet.”
Since the first heart transplant was performed by the South African surgeon Christiian Barnard in 1967, the operation has become quite common, though it remains an arduous, risky and costly procedure. Most patients stay in the hospital for about a month after surgery, and recent studies estimate that first-year costs for a heart transplant and follow-up care are close to $1 million.
According to a statistical review last year in Circulation, there were 2,211 heart transplants performed in the United States in 2009, 72 percent of them in men, who have a higher rate of heart disease than women. From transplants between 1997 and 2004, the survival rate at one year after surgery for men was 88 percent, and at five years it was 73 percent, the journal reported.
A 2008 study in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery said the upper age limit for cardiac transplants had been rising steadily — in 2008 about 12 percent of heart transplant patients were 65 or older — but that outcomes were significantly worse for older patients. For patients over 55, the study found, 63 percent were still alive five years after their transplant, 48 percent survived a decade and 35 percent were living 15 years later.
- Courtesy: The New York Times