NEWS

Cheney recovering from heart transplant

03/24/2012 08:11 EDT | Updated 05/24/2012 05:12 EDT

Former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney had a heart transplant Saturday and is recovering at a Virginia hospital, his office said.

An aide to Cheney disclosed the 71-year-old Cheney, who has had a long history of cardiovascular trouble including numerous heart attacks, had been waiting for a transplant for more than 20 months.

"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," aide Kara Ahern said in a written statement that was authenticated by several of the Republican politician's close associates.

More than 3,100 Americans currently are on the national waiting list for a heart transplant. Just over 2,300 heart transplants were performed last year, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. And 330 people died while waiting.

According to UNOS, 332 people over age 65 received a heart transplant last year.The majority of transplants occur in people aged 50 to 64.

Cheney was recovering Saturday night at the intensive care unit of Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia after surgery earlier in the day, and his odds of survival are good. More than 70 per cent of heart transplant recipients live at least five years, although survival is a bit lower for people over age 65.

Cheney suffered a heart attack in 2010, his fifth since the age of 37. That year, he had surgery to have a small pump installed to help his heart keep working. It was one of the few steps left, short of a transplant, to stay alive in the face of what he acknowledged was "increasing congestive heart failure."

The pump, called a left ventricular assist device, is mainly used for short periods to buy time for potential transplant candidates awaiting a donor organ. The fact that doctors resorted to it illustrated the perilous condition he was in.

In July 2007, he had had a minor surgical procedure to replace a device that monitored his heartbeat. Nearly 20 years earlier, in 1988, Cheney had had quadruple bypass surgery, and had two artery-clearing angioplasties and the operation to implant the device.

In 2005, Cheney had six hours of surgery on his legs to repair a kind of aneurysm, and in March 2007 doctors discovered deep venous thrombosis in his left lower leg. An ultrasound a month later showed the clot was getting smaller.

Battery-powered pump

In January 2011, Cheney said he was getting by on a battery-powered heart pump, which made it "awkward to walk around." He also said he hasn't made a decision yet on a transplant, but that "the technology is getting better and better."

Cheney said then that he would "have to make a decision at some point whether I want to go for a transplant."

Cheney, who served as former George W. Bush's vice-president for eight years, from 2001 until 2009, was a lightning rod for criticism during Bush's presidency, accused by opponents of often advocating a belligerent U.S. stance in world affairs during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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