Cheney's New Book Documents His 35-Year Battle With CVD

October 22, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC — Search through the archives of theheart.org and no single patient has been mentioned more than former vice president Dick Cheney. In fact, an argument can be made that Cheney's heart has been one of the most scrutinized in the history of the White House, with questions about the vice president's health arising the moment he was named running mate to George W Bush in 2000.

Now, instead of reporter's asking questions about his long and troubled history with coronary heart disease, Cheney himself is tackling the topic head-on with the publication of Heart: An American Medical Odyssey, a memoir he has written along with his cardiologist Dr Jonathan Reiner (George Washington University Hospital, DC).

The book documents Cheney's 35-year battle with heart disease, a fight that began with his first MI in 1972 and culminated with a heart transplant in 2012. In that time, Cheney seems to have undergone it all, including five heart attacks, revascularization with CABG and coronary stents, the implantation of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), treatment for atrial fibrillation, treatment for deep vein thrombosis, and the implantation of a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) for his failing heart.

Over the years, heartwire has documented Cheney's extensive cardiology care. The former vice president underwent CABG surgery in 1988 and received the LVAD in 2010 when he was 69 years old because of advancing congestive heart failure. During a talk at the annual meeting of American Association for Thoracic Surgery in 2013, Cheney said the operation to implant the LVAD was a low point and the toughest surgery he's had to date.

In an interview with USA Today, Reiner said Cheney is a unique patient. "He has the longest history of heart disease of any of my patients," he said. "He has the most complex history in terms of how difficult his disease became, the most number of moving parts. And he happens to be Dick Cheney."

 
He has the longest history of heart disease of any of my patients.
 

Today, with the new heart, Cheney has told multiple media outlets that he feels "fantastic." "Now I'm to the point where — I literally, you know, feel like I have a new heart, a lot more energy than I had previously," Cheney told CNN's Dr Sanjay Gupta. "There aren't any real physical limits on what I do. I fish, I hunt. And — I don't ski, but that's because of my knees, not my heart. So it's — it's been a miracle."

No Special Treatment for the Rich VP

In the book, Cheney and Reiner stress that the vice president received no special treatment for his heart, but he did benefit from medical breakthroughs that occurred during each stage of his disease. In USA Today, Cheney relays an anecdote told to him by Reiner about his good fortune.

"It's as though you got up in the morning at home and were late to work," Cheney says, quoting his doctor. "You jump in the car and head out for the office and every single stoplight is red. And he said, 'Cheney, when you got to it, they all turned green.' That's exactly what happened. When I needed an implantable defibrillator, I had it. When I needed stents, we had it. Cholesterol-lowering drugs, we had it."

As reported previously, Cheney spent about 20 months on the waiting list for his new heart, which is slightly longer than the national average. The only special benefit that Cheney received was that steps were taken to prevent Cheney's ICD from being "hacked by terrorists." In replacing Cheney's older ICD with a newer one in 2007, Reiner requested the WiFi feature that allowed the ICD to be reprogrammed wirelessly be turned off. Medtronic, the makers of Cheney's ICD, made the request.

Just recently, the television drama Homeland ventured into such "fictional" territory when the show's vice president William Walden was killed by terrorists in season 2 after they gained access to his ICD and deactivated it. However, the real-life risk of remotely hacking Cheney's ICD is not possible based on today's technology, according to experts.

In 2006, Cheney and his wife Lynne donated $2.7 million to the George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates and School of Medicine and Health Sciences. The Richard and Lynne Cheney Cardiovascular Institute was named in their honor.

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