Dick Cheney: How Medical Marvels Saved His Life

Monday, 25 Jul 2011 10:51 PM

By Charlotte Libov

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Dick Cheney’s medical history reads like a cardiology textbook. He’s survived an incredible five heart attacks, has undergone a litany of surgeries and is now being kept alive by a space-age pump that does much of the work for his severely damaged heart.

Last year it looked like the ex-vice president’s bad heart would finally claim his life. End-stage heart disease was causing his organs to shut down.

Instead, in a dramatic turnaround, Cheney is now writing his memoirs and planning to go fly-fishing in Montana later this summer.

Cheney — who has an extensive family history of heart disease and suffered his first heart attack when he was only 37 — has been widely viewed as a medical marvel. Not surprisingly, the 70 year old is deeply grateful to the cardiology community for the scientific advancements that have kept him alive. “I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to live in a place and time when all that was going on,” Cheney said recently in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

But far from viewing the politician as a triumph of modern medicine, heart surgeon Chauncey Crandall, M.D. tells Newsmax that Cheney could have avoided his near death battles — and the ex-vice president himself seems to agree.

“Everyone thinks Dick Cheney is a medical miracle,” said Dr. Crandall. “I don’t agree. Cheney has an aggressive form of heart disease that he could have turned off early in life by following a disciplined lifestyle, but he didn’t.”

Dr. Crandall is chief of the cardiac transplant program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He also created, The Simple Heart Test, a free online heart test to help people discover their own heart health risks.

Indeed, Cheney seems to confirm Dr. Crandall’s blunt assessment. Cheney refused to give in to his bad heart by slowing his political career and easing the stress he faced. He notes that his heart attacks, the first which he suffered in 1978 in the midst of his victorious GOP race for Congress, “always seemed to happen in campaign years.”

He suffered his fourth attack during the stressful Florida “hanging chad” presidential recount in 2000.

Despite his family’s long history with cardiac problems — Cheney at age 14 watched his grandfather die of a heart attack — he became a heavy smoker.
“I didn’t pay any attention,” he admitted to the Wall Street Journal. “I had a lot of bad habits: Drank a ton of black coffee out of the Navy mess in the White House, smoked a couple of packs a day.”

Although Cheney did quit smoking after his first heart attack, he acknowledges that he “didn’t pay any attention” to his doctor’s warnings for decades. Aside from quitting smoking, he made few concessions to his heart condition. Instead, he threw himself into high-pressure politics enthusiastically, serving in the Nixon, Ford and George H.W. Bush’s White House, before becoming second President Bush’s vice president.

Cheney, Crandall, Simple Heart Test, healthEven as continual stress and lifestyle choices took their toll, Cheney preferred to rely on medical technology, rather than make diet, exercise and other changes. This doesn’t surprise Dr. Crandall, who notes that the vice president received “presidential VIP medical care” and that doctors tend to tiptoe around their rich and powerful patients.

In coronary heart disease, fatty material builds up in the heart’s coronary arteries, impeding blood flow and resulting in heart attack-causing blockages. Over his life, Cheney underwent a raft of medical procedures, including angioplasty, in which a balloon is used to widen the coronary artery, as well as the insertion of stents, tiny mesh sleeves to keep the artery propped open. He also had quadruple coronary bypass surgery.

Besides heart attacks, coronary heart disease causes life-threatening arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, so it’s not surprising that Cheney needed medical innovations to overcome this problem as well. In 1985, he received what was then cutting-edge technology, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator to shock his heart back into rhythm if it suddenly stopped. It did stop in 2009.

Editor’s Note: Discover Your Risk for Heart Attack – Before It’s Too Late.

During the episode, Cheney fell unconscious while backing out of his driveway and crashed his Jeep into a stand of trees. “Secret Service — got their attention,” he quipped. But the defibrillator worked perfectly and saved his life.

Then, last year, as Cheney lay dying following his fifth heart attack, and when a heart transplant appeared to be his only option, he received his most cutting-edge device to date. He underwent open-heart surgery for the implantation of a ventricular assist device, or LVAD, which is a turbine that assists his diseased heart by pushing blood through his body.

The LVAD may enable Cheney to continue his passion for fly-fishing, but the ex-vice president’s medical prognosis is grim, said Dr. Crandall, who sees many patients with end-stage heart disease.

“I think Cheney’s doctors have probably urged him to have a heart transplant, but he might be a difficult match, or he doesn’t want it,” says Dr. Crandall, the author of Dr. Crandall’s Heart Health Report,” Newsmax’s monthly heart health newsletter.”

According to Dr. Crandall, an LVAD is usually used as a bridge to a heart transplant and should not as considered a permanent fix. Patients with LVAD’s are at tremendous risk. They must take powerful blood thinners, and, even then, run the risk of suffering a massive stroke or widespread infection.

On the other hand, notes Dr. Crandall, Cheney could have avoided most of his cardiac problems by changing his lifestyle when he received that first warning. Says Dr. Crandall: “People do this all the time. They take the risk, and they wait for medical technology to save them. Dick Cheney has known from the age of 14 what he was up against, and yet he did not adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle.”

Like everybody at risk for heart disease, Cheney would have had fewer problems if he had reduced his stress, gotten more sleep and exercise, and revamped his diet, says Dr. Crandall.

A legendary beef lover, Cheney should have switched to a largely plant-based diet, which includes lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as non-animal proteins contained in nuts and beans, or goat or non-fat hard cheese, says Dr. Crandall.

He also recommends that those with a family history of heart disease walk at least an hour a day and engage in other types of exercise like swimming or tennis.

With these types of changes “Many of my patients have reversed their heart disease and it would have worked for Dick Cheney as well,” Dr. Crandall said.

To discover your risk for heart attack, take Dr. Crandall’s FREE online heart test – Click Here.


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