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Vice President Cheney to Undergo Heart Examination

Aired June 29, 2001 - 10:01   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We'll be talking some more about this ICD and this procedure in our continuing coverage right now of this announcement about Vice President Dick Cheney's condition and his going back into the hospital tomorrow.

Let's go now to our Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno.

Frank, the implications from this announcement this morning, rather serious?

FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the implications are obvious and that is that Dick Cheney is, as he has said, the most closely watched heart patient in America and here in Washington he's one of the most closely watched politicians. It sort of goes without saying now that in this administration George W. Bush likes to set his administration up, that he is the CEO. He's the big=picture guy. He's clearly the boss.

But Dick Cheney is his chief operating officer. And just as he did with the energy initiative, for example, Dick Cheney was the pivot person on that, just as he served as essentially the 101st senator when the U.S. Senate was 50-50 and he was there to cast the tie breaking vote, just as he has rather unusually a very prime piece of real estate on the House side, over at the House of Representatives, Dick Cheney is very much in the middle of things here in Washington.

It's interesting, Leon, too, that America knows this and in some polling that we've done here at CNN we've asked whether Dick Cheney has too much power, the right amount of power. Over 60 percent say that Dick Cheney has about the right amount of power. And his favorable ratings, Leon, the last time we checked last, you know, in May, he was at 60 percent approval ratings, higher than the president himself. So a great recognition of the role that Dick Cheney plays and that's why this procedure, as all health procedures, all significant health procedures out of the White House are very, very closely watched, which is why it's noteworthy that Dick Cheney himself came to the podium, got out in front of this to get out in front of the speculation.

HARRIS: It's interesting that this time around it was a preemptive strike by the vice president, considering what happened last go round when we all discovered that he was in the hospital and then all the press showed up there at George Washington University Medical Center in the dark to find out what was going on. SESNO: Well, Leon, we've seen this in Washington over the years now, whether it was Ronald Reagan with some of his medical concerns, George Bush Sr. with some of his issues. There is enormous speculation because there's so much press around, frankly, because there are channels like this one where we are able to take these events live and talk about them.

And the White House now, in its effort to communicate with the American public, with the markets, with the world, tries to get out in front of this where it can. Clearly, with a situation that is potentially serious as a heart condition and heart surgery, that Dick Cheney may be confronting, they want to get out in front and they want to make plain, as Cheney himself said, that he sees and his doctors see no reason why he can't continue even if they do have to do this implant that they're talking about.

Leon, one other thing. In this polling we -- that I mentioned just a moment ago, we did also ask about his health condition and whether people felt comfortable with it and with him continuing on and when we asked this question last, two thirds of the respondents said that they felt comfortable with the vice president continuing with his duties despite his heart condition.

HARRIS: You have to wonder how long those numbers can stay that high if we continue to hear these sorts of announcements coming out of the White House. We've also seen the vice president pretty much go out of his way to insist that he's not going to be changing his routine unless his doctors advise him to do so and that this is not, he's not going to be pulling back on his work load here. But does, do you really think that, is there any way to tell whether or not that's going to happen?

SESNO: Well, I think, no. I mean the short answer is no. We're going to have to see what happens when Cheney goes into the hospital. Obviously, we're going to be listening very closely to what his doctors have to say. He has been very optimistic and has certainly demonstrated a very robust posture throughout this entire thing, since the first incident with his heart arrhythmia and his going off into the hospital for checkups.

So it's difficult to project something like this, Leon, because as we all know this is, you know, you go into the realm of the unknown here. I'm not a doctor, you're not a doctor. But we know that these kinds of things are not simple and I think Elizabeth gave us a very good explanation of what he's going to be confronting.

The vice president, Leon, did what he and the White House want to do in the last several minutes. As I said, they got out in front of this and he was as forthcoming as he could be and he said we're going to be putting out more information in this press release explaining the procedure. I think that we're going to be hearing a lot of detail from the doctors in an effort to reassure Americans and, again, the world, that this very important vice president is capable of doing his job.

HARRIS: Yeah. Well, our Kelly Wallace is at the White House. I believe she may have gotten a hold of that press release. Let's go to her right now and check and see what she's been able to uncover -- Kelly?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, really just to add to what you and Frank have been talking about, clearly two sort of messages coming from this White House this morning. One, as you're mentioning, the vice president taking a preemptive strike, basically trying to get out front and alert the media and everybody else that he would be going in for this test tomorrow and potentially the implant of this pacemaker. Plus, the other thing is the vice president trying to appear as if, risks are minimal, he said, that he has been feeling fine. He said that he has not felt any chest pain or any pain in his arm. He said that these four cases of sort of rapid heartbeat, that he's asymptomatic, that he didn't even notice them.

So he was trying to, of course, get the message that he has been feeling fine. He has not felt any symptoms, that he has been maintaining the advice of his doctors when it comes to diet and exercise. He even told us that he exercised on his bicycle this morning. So clearly the vice president trying to put forward that he is fine and that the risks are minimal. He did say, of course, that he expects to fully be able to maintain his duties as vice president but he also said that he would follow the advice of his doctors.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If there were any inhibition on my ability to function, if it were the doctors' judgment that any of these developments constituted the kind of information that indicated 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 adequately.


SNOW: Now, the vice president also said that he did speak with President Bush about this earlier in the week on Tuesday and that the president fully encouraged him to go forward with these tests and to have this implant, potential implant of that pacemaker plus obviously as we've been reporting the vice president was in the hospital back in March. And that is when he was feeling some chest pains. And he went in and basically had a procedure, a stent procedure, a procedure to clear up some blockage, the vice president making it very clear that what he will be going into the hospital for tomorrow is not at all related to that stent procedure.

He actually told us in this news conference earlier this morning that his doctor said at the time of that procedure back in March that there would be a 40 percent probability that they would have to go in and repair that stent again, the vice president saying that sort of window has passed and so there's less of a probability that they'll have to go in and repair that, although the vice president said there is always that possibility that he will have to go in and have that repaired.

So again, the vice president trying to get out front, saying he's feeling fine, that he's going in, calling this an insurance policy and saying, interestingly, Leon, when asked if his doctors are giving him different advice for a vice president than they would if he was some, you know, executive at a company, he said that the doctors are giving him the same advice as they would if he was a businessman, that he should go get these tests and this implant if decided that that's the best course of action -- Leon?

HARRIS: Right. Got it. Kelly Wallace at the White House, thanks.

And as Kelly was saying, Kelly was saying that the vice president was saying that he didn't necessarily feel anything was wrong or anything was happening with an arrhythmia in his chest. But it happened anyway. And our Elizabeth Cohen, who's checking in once again, told us earlier that sort of thing is not an unusual kind of report for people who end up having to have this kind of procedure.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, exactly. And it's not unusual for someone with his history. Let's talk a little bit again about the vice president's heart history. He had his first heart attack in 1978 at the age of 37. He had three heart attacks after that and he's had quadruple bypass surgery. Both the attacks and the actual surgery caused damage to -- can cause damage to the muscle. It can actually make some of that muscle dead. And that, in turn, can cause these irregular heartbeats that they picked up. He wore a monitor, a portable monitor on his body for 34 hours and they picked up four times that they saw an irregular heartbeat.

Let's also talk a little bit about the risks of this procedure.


COHEN: Because he mentioned that they're very low, and so we can talk a little bit about that. There's less than a one percent chance of any kind of serious complication such as a heart attack or stroke and only one in 5,000 patients have any kind of a fatal response to this kind of a procedure. So this is a very commonly done and a relatively a low risk procedure.

HARRIS: Now, as I understand it, and I've only studied this for all of, what, about 25, 30 seconds, but from what I've been able to read, what actually happens is something is inserted as a catheter into the heart which actually creates an arrhythmia for the doctors to study so they can see exactly what's been happening in his heart when it does happen?

COHEN: Right, exactly. What they're trying to do, the purpose of this electrophysiology study is to find out where the arrhythmia is happening and what's causing it. And so what they do is they insert a catheter through the groin. They go in, he is awake, and they try to recreate the kind of arrhythmia that they saw when he wore the halter monitor so that they can try to figure out where the arrhythmia came from and what caused it and then they may go in and put in a pacemaker or, as he called it, a pacemaker plus another kind of device that will monitor his heart and will see what's going on. HARRIS: Yes, as a matter of fact, he was, to show just how at ease he was with this whole procedure, he kind of joked about this ICD, this pacemaker plus, as being an energy efficient module because, you know, the batteries only have to be changed or so every five to eight years, correct?

COHEN: Right. There you go. So he only has to come in and get it changed again. I mean it is, he really was remarkably at ease. He did not look like a man who was -- or to me he didn't look like a man who was about to go in and have a catheter put into his groin and up to his heart. I mean I think that when you've been living with this for so long, as he has, that this probably seems like a minor procedure compared to quadruple bypass surgery.

HARRIS: I can guarantee you sticking something like that in Leon Harris would create a totally different reaction.

COHEN: That's right.

HARRIS: Thanks, Elizabeth Cohen. Thanks to our Frank Sesno, our Washington bureau chief, who checked in with us on this, as well, and Kelly Wallace at the White House. We will continue to cover this developing story throughout the day on CNN so don't go away.



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