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Vice President Cheney Speaks to Press About New Heart Complications

Aired June 29, 2001 - 09:31   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We should advise you that we are watching the White House this morning. You're seeing here the White House press briefing room. We have just gotten word a few minutes ago that an announcement of some sort is forthcoming. We just don't know what it is.

Let's go to our Kelly Wallace, who is standing by there at the White House -- Kelly.

Kelly, are you there? Is Kelly Wallace available? Is Kelly ready now?

I see Ari Fleischer, the White House press spokesman, who just entered the room and sat down, which apparently means he is not going to be doing this briefing.

Is Kelly there -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, I don't know if you can hear me.

HARRIS: Got you now, Kelly.

WALLACE: We're understanding that there will be a statement here in the briefing room at the White House. It's unclear exactly who will be making this statement or what it is about. We understand that we are expecting someone to come in here momentarily to make this statement, so we're a little bit caught off guard, Leon, not quite clear on what we're going to be getting.

HARRIS: You're not alone. I think we're all caught off guard.

Is there any scuttlebutt about any pending big announcements of any kind? I see Ari Fleischer is sitting down.

WALLACE: Leon, stand by, here comes the vice president, Dick Cheney. Leon, stand by for the vice president.


Good morning. I wanted to take a minute this morning to spend a little bit of time explaining, since there's so much interest in my health, that I'm going to undergo a test tomorrow at George Washington University Hospital. It's called an electrophysiology study, and it specifically is performed for the purpose of determining the perspective risk for me going forward in terms of abnormal heart rhythms.

For somebody with my background and record with respect to coronary artery disease and previous heart attacks, there is that possibility of abnormal heartbeats and about two weeks ago we did a test that's, in effect, an electrocardiogram that you wear for a long period of time.

The testing period was about 34 hours over a weekend. And it detected some minor periods, very short periods, one to two seconds each, of rapid heart rate. I can't feel anything when it happens. I'm asymptomatic, nothing shows externally with respect to that, but it does raise the possibility that I may need to have implanted sort of -- I think of it as a pacemaker-plus. It's something called an ICD, an implantable cardioverter defibulator. We've got a press release here shortly that will explain all these terms for you.

It's a pacemaker-plus. It goes under the skin and is wired into the heart that has the ability to monitor your heart rhythms and then if, in fact, you develop an irregular rhythm then the ICD acts to correct it and to restore normal rhythm.

I look on this as an insurance policy. It may never actually be needed but if it is, then it's obviously the right thing to do to have it implanted. The device itself is good for about five to eight years before it needs to be replaced. About 100,000 of these procedures are done every year around the country.

And, as I say, when I go in tomorrow, the first thing we'll do is the test and assuming the test shows what we think it will show, then we'll go forward and actually implant the device as well. I would expect to return home tomorrow afternoon. It's basically an outpatient procedure. I will be sedated during the time of the procedure, but to return home tomorrow night and I'd expect to be back at work on Monday if everything goes as planned.

This is unrelated to the stint process that we went through earlier this year and once we've completed the procedure, tomorrow, then we'll arrange for a briefing by my doctors to answer questions about the procedure itself.

QUESTION: Based on what you know, Mr. Vice President...


QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, can you continue in your current job with this procedure? And do you have any long-term doubts about your ability to remain vice president?

CHENEY: No, I have no long-term doubts. The doctors have assured me there's no reason why either the procedure or the device that's being implanted should in any way inhibit my capacity to function as the vice president.

QUESTION: And how about the health of your heart continuing?

CHENEY: I am, as everybody's known for a long time, been living with coronary artery disease for nearly a quarter of a century now. That's nothing new and I'd say my capacity to function in this job if the doctors ever conclude I can't, obviously, I'd be the first to step forward and say so.

It's not in my interest or anybody else's interest to have me continue in the job if I were not capable of performing it, and so I'll follow my doctors' advice in that regard.

But they've assured me there's no reason why this procedure or the device itself should in any way inhibit my ability to continue to perform as vice president.

QUESTION: Did you discuss it with the president, and did you decide to come out yourself and explain it all, because you think misinformation might have been around?

CHENEY: I did explain it all. I discussed it with the president on Tuesday this week that this was a likely course of action, and he encouraged me to go forward and do the procedure.

I also thought it was important to come down, because there, obviously, is great interest for understandable reasons in the health of the vice president. And we've had enough experience now that sometimes misinformation does arise, and there's intense speculation, and everybody sort of goes into a high hover.

QUESTION: It has nothing to do with your views on conservation?


CHENEY: It has nothing to do -- well, I don't know. Somebody suggested maybe we need to put one of those vampire savers on the pacemaker to make certain we didn't use too many watts.


But it's battery operated. And I've been told it's...


CHENEY: I'm told it's already an energy-efficient devise. It runs for five to eight years without having to replace the batteries.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, how often have you been getting these tests?

QUESTION: Was this the first test that showed some irregular heartbeat? And how have you been feeling over these past couple of weeks?

CHENEY: I've been feeling fine. As I say, I'm oblivious to these incidents when they occur and they only last one or two seconds. It's just a short of period of time when there's a rapid heartbeat and then it stops. And I had one of these -- it's called a halter monitor that you wear. I mean, literally, they wire you up for an EKG, an electrocardiogram, and you wear a little recording device on your belt and wear that around for, in this case, I think I did it for 34 hours. I'd done one of those years ago. That must be eight or ten years ago now, but this is the first one I've done recently and it was a routine, precautionary step that my kind of record calls for which is why the doctors recommended I do it and, as I say, we did it two weeks ago and based on those results, they think there's enough evidence there to warrant this more intrusive study tomorrow.

But assuming the study confirms what we've seen here, then the decision will be made to go forward with the ICD and I expect that will be next.

QUESTION: Have you felt anything at all in your chest or your shoulders since the last test?

CHENEY: No, and I exercised this morning for 30 minutes on my Schwinn Airdyne bicycle, as I do several times a week. I've experienced no symptoms of any kind.

QUESTION: Have you talked at all with the president about the possibility of resignation and how that would be handled?

CHENEY: No. No, we haven't.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, can you understand that while you say these are unrelated, that Americans may be concerned that since last fall you have had more frequent incidents of blockage and now this irregularity that it may be a sign of the deepening of your coronary disease; it may be related to stress or your age and weight, and all these things coming together that's making this problem for you more frequent?

CHENEY: Well, no, it's obviously a question I ask my doctors in terms of what this might signify going forward, but as everybody knows, my history of coronary artery disease goes back to 1978. My entire career in politics, in elected office, in Congress, in the Defense Department, eight years in the private sector and now as vice president has all taken place after the onset of coronary artery disease.

It's something you live with. And it's my great good fortune that the technology has gotten so good that it's kept pace with my disease, if you will, so we've been able to manage it through the years. And as say, if there were inhibition on my ability to function, if it were the doctors' judgment that any of these developments constituted the kind of information that I indicated, that I would not be able to perform, I'd be the first to step down.

I don't have any interest in continuing in the post unless I'm able to perform at it adequately, and the doctors have assured me that is the case. QUESTION: Can I just follow up? With every medical procedure, there was always the possibility of confrontation, and there's always some risk. Have your doctors explained to you what the potential complications are, what the potential risk is, and what are they?

CHENEY: Well, you mean if the device goes off, what happens?

QUESTION: During the procedure we'll see tomorrow.

CHENEY: Well, the risks are minimal. The actual test itself involves going into a vein in the leg. This is a procedure I've had done numerous times in the past, where you go in -- now, the catherization procedure actually goes into an artery in the leg.

This will be a vein in the leg. And they insert a couple of small fine wires up into the heart and then run some tests and based on that, then make the decision about going forward with the implant.

It requires a local anesthetic and I'd say mild sedation. You do not go under a general anesthetic and, at the same time, if you then decide to proceed here, it's just really an incision in the skin under the shoulder here and the implantation of this device. It's about two inches by two inches and about half an inch thick, under the skin of your shoulder. It's a very common kind of procedure.

The risks, I think, are minimal, although I can't say it's absolutely without risk. But, as I say, this is done about 100,000 times a year, I'm told around the country.

QUESTION: Is this something, Mr. Vice President, that would be done for any person in your situation? Or are your doctors recommending this because you're vice president?

CHENEY: Well, I asked them at and I said, "Look, if I were a retired government bureaucrat and not vice president of the United States, is this something you'd recommend?" And they said, "Yes, it is."

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand exactly how you came to learn of this latest problem. If you could just explain that a little bit better.

CHENEY: Yes. It's laid out in some detail in this press release we're about to pass out to everybody. It's prepared by my doctors. It explains it.

I went through a routine test of wearing a halter monitor. It's an EKG that you wear for a period of time, in this case about 34 hours. And then they take that, analyze the data and that indicated that I should go forward with this more thorough and comprehensive test that we'll do tomorrow where we actually insert wires into the vein.

And then, assuming that shows what we think it will show, then we'll go forward with the implant. But again, as I say, this is all laid out in here.

QUESTION: Why did they decide to put the harness on you? What made them think that there might be something...

CHENEY: For somebody with my history it's good preventive medicine.

QUESTION: You hadn't done it in several years. I wonder why they decided...

CHENEY: Well, I think the docs had recommended that I do this. I postponed it for several weeks, until I had a weekend when I was going to be home and it was easy to do. And there was no sense of urgency about it or anything like that, there was nothing. I'm asymptomatic. I didn't even feel it when I had these episodes.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, has your family expressed any concerns about your health, your wife? Have they expressed concerns about you continuing in your job?

CHENEY: Well, they're obviously always interested in my health, which I appreciate very much. But they're also very supportive and they know that I get first-rate medical care, I've got great doctors, and say that they've learned to live with it, too.

I realize for a lot of people this can be somewhat stark information perhaps, but on the other hand this has been a fact of life in my family for a generation now. And say we've learned to live with it and cope with it and get on with live, and that's what we're about.

QUESTION: Any constraints on your behavior beyond coming back to work on Monday? Anything (inaudible) diet, your exercise regimen? Any restrictions?

CHENEY: No. I'm following a fairly rigid diet that's maintained by the Navy stewards out at the house. And as I've said before, my wife is in charge of my food supply. We don't get into that in any great detail. And exercise regularly, and got a lot of facilities out there. None of that's influenced by any of this. I exercised this morning, followed my regular regimen. In addition to that...

QUESTION: On you on Medicare?

CHENEY: I'm not on Medicare, no. It's Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

And with respect to after the implant goes in, I'm restricted for a short period of time in terms of upper body exercises in that location where they actually put the implant in, until that all heals up.

But those are the only limitations.

Yes? QUESTION: What was the president's reaction?

CHENEY: The president's reaction was, he wanted to know the specifics and the details, which I gave him, and strongly recommended that I go forward and do the procedure.

QUESTION: Several questions, Mr. Vice President. One, given this reality, your coronary disease as it now exists, does it appear to you unreasonable to look down the road and see yourself serving as vice president in a second Bush term is that occurs?

And secondly, given this, would you be more willing now to release both the details of some apparent weight loss and other results of tests in cholesterol levels and what not?

CHENEY: Well, on the latter point with respect to my health, we have released vast quantities of information and continue to do so. And as I say, tomorrow the docs will be out to brief again after we go through all of the procedures.

I'm convinced that we have in fact provided an enormous amount of information to the press and to the public. I've got to believe I'm the most prominent, probably most thoroughly analyzed heart patient in America today.

And from the standpoint of a service in a second Bush administration, and I do expect there will be a second term for the president, that's something that he hasn't asked me about and I haven't talked to him about. I would expect he'll make that decision before the next convention as to whether or not he wants me to continue. But that'll be his call. And if I'm in shape to do it and if my health permits, then I'd be perfectly happy to serve, but he'll have to make that call and it's a decision that's several years away.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President?

CHENEY: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Just to clarify, sir, when you go in for these tests tomorrow, if the tests confirmed what your doctors previously suspect already, will the implantation be done tomorrow...


QUESTION: ... or at a later date?

CHENEY: No, it'll be done. My expectation is we'll do the test tomorrow. It will probably affirm what we already think we know. And that will lead, then we'll immediately at the same time then go right on into the implant tomorrow. They're saying I'll be home tomorrow afternoon.

There is a possibility, once you get in and do the test, that you conclude that these are false readings or that this isn't exactly the right treatment given that situation, but we won't know that for sure until we test. But I think the odds are fairly small that we would go do the test and not do the implant.

QUESTION: Once this recorder picked up the rapid heartbeat, was there any connection to the incidents? Was it during exercise, et cetera?

CHENEY: No, what you do when you do one of these halter monitors, you get a minute-by-minute log really that you keep during the course of the day. If you're exercising, you know it when you start exercising and when you quit exercising. If you're swimming or riding a bicycle or working at your desk, climbing stairs. All of that gets recorded minute-by-minute and then when they sit down and analyze the tracings that you collect, they do it against that log of activity.


CHENEY: No, none. And, so, in other words, it's not related to physical activity. It doesn't appear to be. And it just occurs occasionally. I think four times over the course of 34 hours, that's in the press release. And, as I say, it lasts for one or two seconds at a time and so there's no outward manifestation of it. I'm totally unaware of it when it happens.

The last question and then I've got to leave.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, you said this was not connected to the stint procedure. Have your doctors indicated how that's holding up and whether, in a few months, you might have to get that replaced or repaired at all?

CHENEY: The general assessment is the stint procedure has held up very well. At the time that we went in and redid it the second time early this year, the expectation was there was about a 40 percent probability that we might have to go back in and do that again. We're now passed the time when that's much of a factor. There's always the possibility you could have to go do it again, but the likelihood has dropped significantly once you get beyond about the four month point, and that would be a good question to ask Dr. Reiner tomorrow who will give the brief on that. But, as I say, this is unrelated to that procedure.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Good luck.

CHENEY: Thank you.

HARRIS: With that, we got our surprise news of the morning. The U.S. vice president, Dick Cheney, announcing that he's is going to going to the hospital tomorrow, on the advice of his doctors, to undergo a procedure called an electrophysiology study. Apparently, some recent testing on his heart over the past few days has revealed some abnormality in the beat of his heart. He said that he didn't feel anything, so he didn't have a reason to believe that he was in the situation where he would need extra care, but his doctors have recommended that he go and check himself into the hospital tomorrow. Let's go to our Kelly Wallace, who was sitting in that briefing -- in fact, we got to see Kelly ask a couple of questions of the vice president -- Kelly.

WALLACE: Leon, as you said, definitely quite a surprise. We did not know what to expect until the vice president himself came in and made this announcement. Obviously, the White House is choosing a different sort of path here, with the vice president himself coming in a day before he is to go to the hospital for a test.

And then as he said, if his tests lead to the results that they expect, then he will have implanted what's basically a pacemaker plus, and this would detect any rapid heartbeat and then treated accordingly. This is a different path of action than last time, back earlier this year, when the vice president did go to the hospital to take care of some blockage, a stent procedure to take care of some blockage, and that was when the White House informed us, after the fact, that the vice president was going to the hospital to take care of that.

So he's clearly choosing a different course of action, the vice president coming in here, fielding a wide range of questions, saying that risks of this procedure tomorrow are quite minimal. If expects, if all things go according to plan, to be home Saturday afternoon.

He said that this is not connected to his earlier visit to the hospital, earlier this year, to deal with some blockage. As you mentioned, Leon, he was basically at the advice of his doctors, undergoing routine tests, wearing basically a halter to detect his heartbeat over some 30 to 34 hours. They did detect, I think on four occasions, some rapid heartbeat. And basically, at the advice of his doctors, he was to have this test and have implanted this pacemaker plus.

The vice president considers this an insurance policy for someone like himself, who has had a history of coronary disease. The vice president is saying he has not felt any of these symptoms, that he has been feeling fine, that he hasn't had any pain in his heart or his arm, and that the doctors believe he should be able to continue with his duties as vice president.

Of course, there were questions to the vice president about has he considered in any way scaling back his duties or potentially resigning, the vice president clearly saying that is not an issue, not something that he is considering at this time, not something that he's discussed with president, that he believes that he should be able to carry out his duties as vice president -- Leon.

HARRIS: It's probably his job to do so, but he certainly did appear as thought he was not very worried about this, saying that this is just something he'd to live with about a generation or so.

WALLACE: Absolutely. He said, I think, that it's back to 1978 that he has been living with heart disease, but obviously, it's a different ball game when you're the vice president of the United States. So he knows that he is -- I think he said he is the most analyzed heart patient in the country. He knows that everything he does is going to be closely watched and monitored.

He said that, of course, tomorrow, there will be doctors who will come out and brief reporters. Anytime the vice president goes to the hospital, it is big news. The vice president will be, he said, under a local anesthetic. Won't be under the general anesthetic. That is, of course, another issue.

So this is big news, and of course, he has been asked about this a number of times. Just back in May, senior White House correspondent John King sat down with the vice president and asked him about his health.


JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: ... what are your doctors telling you? I know you had at least one follow-up after the procedure. Have you had another, and what are the doctors telling you?

CHENEY: I live very close to my docs. They follow me around a lot. One of the things that happened with this job I didn't anticipate is I've become the best-known heart patient in America. So there's great interest in everything I do.

But no, I'm doing fine. The doctors give me a clean bill of health. We watch it very closely.

I might have to go back again at some point for another procedure, but if I have to, the technology's very good.


WALLACE: Leon, clearly, the vice president is echoing those sentiments that he conveyed to John King back in May, that he is feeling good, that he is taking the advice of his doctors, at the advice of his doctors, going for in another test and an implant of a pacemaker plus, possibly, tomorrow for the vice president -- Leon.

HARRIS: And he also put the image in our minds of Dick Cheney in a halter.

We'll talk about all of this coming up in just a bit. Kelly Wallace, thanks much. We'll let you get back to your job there.



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