Cheney Leaves Hospital

Tuesday, March 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney was released from the hospital today, a day after undergoing a surgical procedure to repair a damaged artery.

The vice president walked out of George Washington University Hospital, shook hands with his doctors and was driven away. "Good," he said in response to a reporter's shouted question about how he felt.

Cheney was up about 7 a.m. and was "antsy" to leave, said senior aide Mary Matalin. Three sets of cardiac enzyme tests showed no damage to Cheney's heart muscle, and "multiple EKGs have been unchanged," she said.

Cheney will rest at home and likely will return to work later this week, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

"No restrictions have been placed on his work," Fleischer said. He said President Bush had not spoken with Cheney about his work schedule, but the president "expects him to follow his doctor's orders."

The procedure Cheney underwent Monday was prompted by "a common complication" of his prior heart procedure, not a progression of heart disease, Matalin said.

Cheney should be able to continue in his job unimpeded by his latest heart problems, doctors say, shrugging off any suggestion that he should curtail travel or his intense workload.

But Cheney also was given some tough news after he had an angioplasty to unclog a coronary artery Monday. Even if he sticks to his no-beef diet and rigorous workout regimen, there is a fair chance he will be back in the hospital facing the same trouble soon, his physicians said.

"Well, it's possible for the narrowing to come back, and I think I quoted around 40 percent," Dr. Jonathan Reiner, who performed the surgery at George Washington University, told a news conference. "There are studies that may show, you know, a little bit higher than that. If the narrowing is going to come back, usually it comes back within the first six months."

Cheney, who has had four heart attacks, underwent the angioplasty after he experienced a series of subtle pains in his chest. Doctors said their best evidence indicated that Cheney, 60, had not suffered another heart attack.

The artery, which had been opened during surgery at the same hospital in November, had partially reclosed, Reiner said. The culprit was scar tissue building up in the same channel doctors had opened previously.

Monday night Cheney was groggy and sedated, but Reiner said he should be back at work this week. When asked whether Cheney could face travel restrictions, or any restrictions at all, Reiner said, "no."

Cheney could be released Tuesday; a decision was expected Tuesday morning.

"There is a very high likelihood he can finish out his term in his fully vigorous capacity," Reiner said. Cheney quickly resumed a full schedule after the November operation.

President Bush called the vice president to wish him well, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "During their five-minute phone call, the vice president told the president that he was feeling fine and looked forward to returning to work."

In this latest incident, Cheney checked himself into George Washington University Hospital, about six blocks west of the White House, after feeling chest pain briefly on two occasions Monday. He also had felt chest discomfort Saturday after stepping off an exercise machine, and on Sunday, after taking a walk.

He said the episodes were "much milder and very brief" compared with the chest pains he experienced in November. "The symptoms were subtle" this time, Reiner said.

Cheney attended a birthday party for Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan Sunday night, capping a weekend in which he and his wife, Lynne Cheney, moved into the vice president's residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory. They also sold their townhouse in McLean, Va.

On Monday, doctors inserted a flexible tube into the narrowed artery carrying a collapsed balloon. Once the balloon was in place, it was inflated, reopening the artery.

During the November procedure, doctors had implanted a wire scaffolding-like device called a stent to prop open the same artery, which had been found to be 90 percent closed.

Reiner said that following such stent procedures, there always was a chance of the artery becoming blocked again.

Cheney has had four heart attacks, the first when he was 37. In 1988, he had quadruple bypass surgery to clear clogged arteries.

His latest troubles could not have been prevented, doctors said.

"The vice president has been exceedingly diligent at adhering to what we've wanted him to do, including very, very regular exercise and really a very strict adherence to a diet, which is hard for people to do, and he's been very good at it," Reiner said.

After Cheney arrived at the hospital Monday, he underwent a cardiac catheterization to determine what was causing the chest pains.

In that procedure, doctors insert a flexible tube into a leg vessel, and it is run from there up to the target artery supplying blood to the heart. At that point, dye is injected. The dye shows up on an X-ray or fluoroscope, enabling doctors to see the flow of blood through the artery.

When the blockage was noted, the angioplasty was performed.

Cheney is an unusually active and influential vice president. He headed Bush's transition team, played a major role in Cabinet and top personnel selections and has helped Bush forge his foreign policy as well as a national energy policy. White House officials say Cheney is the adviser Bush most relies upon to make sure his agenda is carried out.

His hospitalization came less than a week after Bush's first address to Congress, just as Bush is trying to generate attention and support for his tax-cut plan.

In a television interview Sunday, Cheney said he felt great. "I am well-behaved. They've taken control of my food supply. So I'm trying to do all those things you need do to be a responsible individual with a history of coronary artery disease and somebody who's 60," he told CNN.

Cheney, who has declined to release his full medical records, seemingly has lost some weight in recent weeks, but aides won't say how much – or how much he now weighs. He exercises regularly on a treadmill and has been skipping sweets, aides said.