Dick Cheney (1941 to present) Survival Due to Medical Innovation



Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, in an underground center at the White House on Sept. 11, 2001. On that day, Mr. Cheney’s doctors had just received a blood test that indicated he was in serious risk of another heart attack.



Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Richard (Dick) Cheney was primarily raised in Sumner, Nebraska, and Casper, Wyoming. In 1964, he married Lynne Vincent, his high school sweetheart, whom he had met at age 14. When Cheney became eligible for the draft, during the Vietnam War, he applied for and received five draft deferments.


Cheney’s political career began in 1969, as an intern for Congressman William A. Steiger during the Richard Nixon Administration. He then joined the staff of Donald Rumsfeld, who was then Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity from 1969-70.  Cheney and Rumsfeld would become close political colleagues and life-long friends.  When Rumsfeld was named Secretary of Defense, Cheney became White House Chief of Staff, succeeding Rumsfeld. He later was campaign manager for Ford’s1976 presidential campaign. In 1989, The Washington Post writer George C. Wilson interviewed Cheney as the next Secretary of Defense; when asked about his deferments, Cheney reportedly said, “I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service”.

President George H. W. Bush nominated Cheney for the office of Secretary of Defense immediately after the U.S. Senate failed to confirm John Tower for that position and Cheney served in that office from March 1989 to January 1993. Cheney recalls watching the elder George Bush deliver his “read my lips” convention speech in 1988 from a hospital bed as a male nurse shaved off his body hair for bypass surgery. Regarding war in the Middle East, Cheney regarded the Gulf War as an example of the kind of regional problem the United States was likely to continue to face in the future.


In early 2000, while serving as the CEO of Halliburton, Cheney headed then-Governor of Texas George W. Bush’s vice-presidential search committee. On July 25, after reviewing Cheney’s findings, Bush surprised some pundits by asking Cheney himself to join the Republican ticket. Halliburton reportedly reached agreement on July 20 to allow Cheney to retire, with a package estimated at $20 million. Other sources estimate his present net worth at $90 million.


No matter which political party you favor, no one can say that Dick Cheney’s life, from a medical perspective, is not extremely interesting. The story of his struggle with heart disease over many years, acknowledges the high level of American medicine and medical research.


In 2010, former Vice President Dick Cheney was so close to death, that he said farewell to his family members and instructed them to have his body cremated and the ashes returned to Wyoming. Mr. Cheney ultimately survived the emergency surgery that night and went on to have a heart transplant at age 71 that has left him re-energized five years after leaving office.


A new book, just published last week, which Mr. Cheney wrote with his cardiologist, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, represents a glimpse into the personal side of the former vice president. Among other things, the book discloses that on Sept. 11, 2001, as Mr. Cheney, in President George W. Bush’s absence, was effectively managing the response to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington from the White House bunker, his doctors had just received indications that he was in serious risk of a heart attack. A blood test that morning showed Mr. Cheney with a “potentially lethal” level of potassium that suggested hyperkalemia, which could trigger cardiac arrest that even the defibrillator in his chest would not stop. As Mr. Cheney left the White House by helicopter that night for an undisclosed location, later revealed to be Camp David, a doctor handed him a note asking to take more blood to confirm the result. Mr. Cheney put him off until the morning, when the new test came back with a healthier potassium reading.


He suffered his fourth heart attack in November 2000 as he and George W. Bush awaited the Florida recount; he was checked into the hospital under the pseudonym Red Adair. By the time he left office, Mr. Cheney was having trouble breathing and walking up stairs. In December 2009, he lost consciousness while backing up his car at his Wyoming home. Soon he was experiencing nosebleeds so serious that one required emergency surgery. Then came his 5th heart attack. By summer 2010, he was entering end-stage heart failure. His appetite was gone, and he could not even walk out to pick up the newspaper. Doctors decided to implant a left ventricular assist device, but when he checked into the hospital two days before the operation, his condition was so dire they rushed him into surgery. “Cheney was dying,” Dr. Reiner writes. He spent 35 days in the hospital, much of it unconscious.


Cheney’s long histories of cardiovascular disease and periodic need for urgent health care raised questions of whether he was medically fit to serve in public office. Having smoked approximately 3 packs of cigarettes per day for nearly 20 years, Cheney sustained the first of five heart attacks in 1978, at age 37. Subsequent attacks in 1984, 1988, 2000, and 2010 have resulted in moderate contractile dysfunction of his left ventricle. He underwent four-vessel coronary artery bypass grafting in 1988, coronary artery stenting in November 2000, urgent coronary balloon angioplasty in March 2001, and the implantation of an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator in June, 2001.


On September 24, 2005, Cheney underwent a six-hour endo-vascular procedure to repair popliteal artery aneurysms bilaterally, a catheter treatment technique used in the artery behind each knee. The condition was discovered at a regular physical in July, and was not life-threatening. Cheney was hospitalized for tests after experiencing shortness of breath five months later. In late April 2006, an ultrasound revealed that the clot was smaller. On March 5, 2007, Cheney was treated for deep-vein thrombosis in his left leg at George Washington University Hospital after experiencing pain in his left calf. Doctors prescribed blood-thinning medication and allowed him to return to work. CBS News reported that during the morning of November 26, 2007, Cheney was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and underwent treatment that afternoon.


On July 12, 2008, Cheney underwent a cardiological exam; doctors reported that his heartbeat was normal for a 67-year-old man with a history of heart problems. As part of his annual checkup, he was administered an electrocardiogram and radiological imaging of the stents placed in the arteries behind his knees in 2005. Doctors said that Cheney had not experienced any recurrence of atrial fibrillation and that his special pacemaker had neither detected nor treated any arrhythmia. On October 15, 2008, Cheney returned to the hospital briefly to treat a minor irregularity.


On January 19, 2009, Cheney strained his back “while moving boxes into his new house”. As a consequence, he was in a wheelchair for two days, including his attendance at the 2009 United States presidential inauguration. On February 22, 2010, Cheney was admitted to George Washington University Hospital after experiencing chest pains. A spokesperson later said Cheney had experienced a mild heart attack after doctors had run tests. On June 25, 2010, Cheney was admitted to George Washington University Hospital after reporting discomfort. In early July 2010, Cheney was outfitted with a left-ventricular assist device (LVAD) at Inova Fairfax Heart and Vascular Institute to compensate for worsening congestive heart failure. The device pumped blood continuously through his body. He was released from Inova on August 9, 2010, and had to decide whether to seek a full heart transplant. This pump was centrifugal and as a result he remained alive without a pulse for nearly fifteen months.


On March 24, 2012, Cheney underwent a seven-hour heart transplant procedure at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia, at the age of 71. He had been on a waiting list for more than 20 months before receiving the heart from an anonymous donor. Cheney’s principal cardiologist, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, advised his patient that “it would not be unreasonable for an otherwise healthy 71-year-old man to expect to live another 10 years” with a transplant, saying in a family-authorized interview that he considered Cheney to be otherwise healthy. Mr. Cheney says his survival was possible only because of medical innovation: “The health care system that produced such rapid development and has driven the dramatic reduction in the incidence of death from heart disease over the past 40 years is a national treasure and deserves to be preserved and protected.”


 Sources: Peter Baker and Julie Bosman for The New York Times;  Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic;  Wikipedia


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