Dick Cheney Recuperating After Surgery to Install Heart Pump

July 15, 2010 - 6:28 AM
Such devices are used mainly for short periods, to buy potential transplant candidates time as they await a donor organ.
Washington (AP) - Former Vice President Dick Cheney disclosed Wednesday that he has undergone surgery to install a small pump to help his heart work, as the 69-year-old enters a new phase of what he called "increasing congestive heart failure."
 
"The operation went very well and I am now recuperating," a still-hospitalized Cheney said in a statement.
 
The kind of heart pump that Cheney received can be implanted next to the heart to help its main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, pump blood through the body. Such devices are used mainly for short periods, to buy potential transplant candidates time as they await a donor organ.
 
But they are being studied for use as a permanent therapy for people with severe heart failure who aren't transplant candidates.
 
The surgery took place last week at Inova Fairfax Heart and Vascular Institute in Washington's Northern Virginia suburbs, where Cheney was receiving care Wednesday.
 
A longtime face of the Republican Party, Cheney has dealt with heart problems much of his adult life, suffering five heart attacks since age 37. He said the latest step, the implanting of a pump called a left ventricular assist device, will allow him to resume an active life.
 
About 5 million Americans have congestive heart failure in which the heart weakens over time -- often as a result of heart attacks -- and cannot pump enough blood. Heart transplants are one solution, but few patients find a donor and many are too old or sick for a transplant.
 
The heart pump Cheney received, known as an LVAD for short, is not a cure, said Dr. Samer Najjar, medical director of the heart transplant and LVAD division at Washington Hospital Center. But by rerouting the blood to take over the job of the left ventricle, the pump relieves pressure on the heart.
 
And once patients recover from the open-heart surgery, they can experience a much better quality of life, said Najjar, who has had LVAD recipients go back to work or resume hobbies like bowling. Najjar had no firsthand information about Cheney's case.
 
The typical life expectancy of the recipient depends on whether the device is to be temporary and the person goes on to receive a heart transplant, or if the device is intended for permanent therapy. Recent studies suggest that 63 percent of patients who receive a permanent LVAD can survive two years, Najjar said. Those awaiting a heart transplant tend to have a slightly higher survival.
 
The details of Cheney's scenario were not immediately available.
 
"The expectation is he is going to have an improved quality of life for some time to come," Najjar said.
 
Cheney said a few weeks ago it became clear he was "entering a new phase of the disease when I began to experience increasing congestive heart failure."
 
Late last month, Cheney was admitted to George Washington University Hospital for a few days after reporting he was not feeling well. In that episode, he ultimately received medication to treat a fluid buildup related to his aggressive form of heart disease.
 
On Wednesday, Cheney said that after testing and consultation with doctors, he underwent surgery last week to install the heart pump. The former vice president offered thanks to those who have kept him and his family in their thoughts.