Dick Cheney Was Ready to Resign if Heart Troubles Worsened

Sunday, 20 Oct 2013 08:05 PM

By Greg Richter

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Former Vice President Dick Cheney's heart issues are well known, but his new book, "Heart: An American Medical Odyssey," details just how many times his life was saved by the latest medical procedures just in the nick of time.

Cheney got new heart in 2012 at age 71, and told Dr. Sanjay Gupta in an interview for CBS's "60 Minutes" and CNN that he can do anything he wants, including hunting and fishing. He doesn't run, he added, but that's because his knees are bad – not because of his heart.

But things weren't always so sunny.

Cheney's cardiologist, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, co-authored the book, and told Gupta he had a particular fear for Cheney's health on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Reiner had received test results that day that showed Cheney's potassium levels so high he could die of a condition called hyperkalemia.

"I laid awake that night, you know, watching the replays of the towers come down and now thinking that, 'Oh great, the vice president's going to die tonight from hyperkalemia," Reiner told Gupta.

Story continues below.

Cheney started smoking at 12 and never took care of himself, even though his family had a history of heart disease. By the time he signed on as President Gerald Ford's chief of staff, he was drinking beer and smoking up to three packs a day.

That was at age 34, and by 37 he had had his first heart attack.

When Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush asked Cheney to be his running mate in 2000, the campaign asked world-renowned Texas heart surgeon Denton Cooley to check into his condition.

Cooley conferred with Reiner and reported to the campaign that Cheney had a normal heart function. He had his fourth heart attack during the contentious recount of election results.

When Cheney's implanted defibrillator was replaced in 2007, Reiner decided the wireless feature of the device should be disabled because a terrorist might be able to hack into it and kill Cheney.

The drama "Homeland" later used just such a storyline with terrorists attacking a fictional vice president.

"I was aware of the danger, if you will, that existed, but I found it credible," Cheney said of the "Homeland" episode. "Because I know from the experience we had and the necessity for adjusting my own device that it was an accurate portrayal of what was possible."

Gupta repeatedly pressed Cheney on the dangers of his decision-making being impaired by decreased blood flow to the brain brought on by his heart condition.

"You know, I was as good as I could be, you know, given the fact I was sixty-some years old at that point and a heart patient," Cheney said.

The former vice president also didn't take well to Gupta's assertion that the clean bill of health given to him by his heart doctor and the Texas heart surgeon was false and may have meant he was unable to perform his duties to the best of his ability.

"The way I look at it, Sanjay, is that first of all, I didn’t seek the job. The president came to me and asked me to be his vice president. The party nominated me. The doctors that consulted on it reached a common conclusion. And the people elected me," Cheney said. "Now, what basis to I override the decision-making process? Do you want to have an offshoot where we come check with Sanjay Gupta and say, 'Gee, is he up to the task?' That’s not the way it works."

Related Article:

Job Stress Took Toll on Bush's Heart: Top Cardiologist

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