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Election 2000: Dick Cheney Suffers Chest and Shoulder Pains; Georgetown University Doctor Discusses Particulars of Such Problems

Aired November 22, 2000 - 9:03 a.m. ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: But first, as we have reported this morning, Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney is said to be resting comfortably at a Washington hospital this morning after suffering chest and shoulder pains. Cheney is 59, and he has had a history of heart problems, including three mild heart attacks.

Joining us on now the set here is CNN medical news correspondent Rhonda Rowland -- Rhonda.

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, this is not atypical. This is something that does happen with patients who have a history of heart disease, that is being admitted to the hospital with some pain. We have a little bit of information at this time. Here's what we can tell you: As Leon just mentioned, he was hospitalized with chest and shoulder pains, he was given an electrocardiogram that showed no change, and initial blood work shows cardiac enzymes are normal.

And this is very important information. Doctors can now use very sophisticated blood tests to determine if a patient has suffered a heart attack or if the heart muscle has suffered any kind of damage. So so far, there is no indication of this. So this is very good news.

Now as far as the next step, typically patients are either given a stress test -- this is where somebody's put on kind of a treadmill- type thing, and they are hooked up to different monitors to check out the heart function -- or they may undergo a cardiac catheterization -- and this is where they go in, and they have a catheter that is threaded through the groin, up to the heart, dye is injected into the heart, and on an X-ray, they can see if there are any blockages in the heart.

So that's what we know typically happens next in this kind of situation.

HARRIS: So say, then, for instance, what happens if there is a blockage inside and they actually find one?

ROWLAND: This may depend on how big the blockage is. We know that Mr. Cheney had a heart bypass operation in 1988, and typically, a heart bypass will last an average of 10 to 15 years. So he's kind of come up to this average time. So the grafts could still be good, or they could be blocked. If they're completely blocked, typically, a patient may have to have another bypass operation.

And right now we're going to talk to a physician to find out a little bit more about what is typically done. We're joined on the phone by Doctor Jean Barbey, he's assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University.

Good morning, Doctor.


ROWLAND: As I was just mentioning, what happens next if somebody has had a heart bypass operation, and it looks like it is completely blocked, what do doctors typically do?

BARBEY: Well, I think the first thing would be to see, of course, that, in such a patient, his preexisting situation must be fairly well-known and fairly well defined, so it's not exactly like the doctors are going into the unknown. But, indeed, as you said, there are situations where the blockages have progressed to such a great extent that re-bypass has to be considered. But more likely, if there is significant blockage, the techniques of angioplasty and stent (ph) placement are very, very often able to address them.

ROWLAND: And, Doctor, let's talk a little but more about that. You mentioned this stent. I understand that his is a tiny mesh device. Why do doctors use this, and what can this do if just, say, the artery is partially blocked?

BARBEY: Well, I mean, if the artery is minimally blocked, one often chooses not to intervene. If it's significantly blocked, re- dilating and stretching the lumen of the vessel with a balloon is just regular angioplasty, which has been done for quite a few years but has the drawback that...


BARBEY: ... often returns. So addition of a stent to sort of support and minimize the recoil and the restenosis (ph) of the vessel contributes significantly to a much better long-term outcome. So, currently, many, many of the interventions are accompanied by, eventually, a stent placement.

ROWLAND: And, doctor, let me ask you about this. I'm sure a lot of people have on their minds that Mr. Cheney has just undergone a very rigorous campaign, associated with a lot of stress, perhaps the stress of waiting on the outcome of this election. Could stress be playing a role here? Could this have contributed to the pain he's now experiencing?

BARBEY: Certainly, it's always difficult to quantity exactly the effects of stress, but he, certainly, undoubtedly, was through a stressful period. Now, on the other hand, I'm sure he's well followed by a competent group of physicians and was well assessed before. And so without knowing, really, the intimate details, it's also possible that this was a very marked precaution that is not of great significance. But certainly stress plays a role, no doubt. ROWLAND: And, Doctor, I know that stress not been indicated as an independent risk factor like smoking or high blood pressure. But can it influence other types of factors like high cholesterol and also have an impact per se on diet -- perhaps he's out on the road again not eating the normal diet or in your normal routine of an exercise program? Could it possibly have an impact that way?

BARBEY: It could, it certainly could. And I don't know Mr. Cheney, so I don't know what his doctor has been telling him. And some people say that yes, what got you in trouble in the first place, being an eight-high-per-salaty (ph), working hard, and things like that will get you in trouble. Again, so I don't know whether he neglected some of his healthy habits or not. Of course, if he was able to be a monk and retire and live in a peaceful environment, probably, he would be a tiny bit better off.

ROWLAND: OK, doctor, Dr. Barbey, from Georgetown University, thank you very much for joining us -- Leon.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: I think a monk is the last thing anyone ever accused Dick Cheney of being. All right, Rhonda Rowland, thanks much, great questions. We'll talk to you later on -- Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, when George W. Bush chose Cheney as his running mate, he knew of Cheney's medical history.

CNN national correspondent Tony Clark is in Austin with the Bush campaign.

Tony, they've always been pretty open about his history with his heart.

TONY CLARK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And Kyra, you know they did a medical check early on -- I think it was back in July -- and found that he was good to go. He was -- he was ready for the campaign, and there wasn't a problem or a concern about that, and as we've seen him campaign over the months, he has been unceasingly campaigning, he's worked very hard and shown no signs of problems.

Governor Bush was called by his campaign chairman, Don Evans, around a little after 5:00 a.m. local time this morning and advised that Secretary Cheney was in the hospital complaining of shoulder and chest pains. And then a short time after that, the governor called Washington -- called G.W. Hospital -- and talked to Secretary Cheney. A Bush aid tells me that , according to the governor, Cheney was in good spirits, and that the governor himself is in good spirits and expected to comment on these latest developments a little bit later this morning.

Cheney had gone to Washington over the weekend. He was going to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with his family in McLean, Virginia. And so now it just kind of changes the dynamics of things, concern here from the Bush campaign for Secretary Cheney's health. But as we've been reporting this morning, the initial test -- the EKG -- showed no change, the cardiac enzymes were normal, and so those are both encouraging signs. Secretary Cheney still in the hospital, but perhaps, additional tests, and Kyra, as I say, we expect to hear something from the governor a little bit later this morning.

PHILLIPS: All right, Tony, as soon as you do, we'll check in with you.

Thanks a lot -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, the Gore campaign is expressing concern this morning, as well, about Dick Cheney's condition.

CNN's Eileen O'Connor joins us live now from the Gore camp in Washington with that reaction -- Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, the Gore campaign said that, obviously, they are learning this information just as we are, but they are, of course, concerned about Secretary Cheney's condition, one aid saying: Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family, and the campaign -- they realize how difficult this must be for them.

Right now, they are still focusing, of course, their attention on these manual recounts. They have picked up, in all, 266 votes throughout the three counties. They were encouraged by that court decision this morning in Miami-Dade county that the undervotes would be counted.

Now, they're focusing in on a decision in Palm Beach county on the dimpled ballots. They have to have those dimpled ballots included because they, in order to overtake Governor Bush -- they believe that there are many dimpled ballots that are -- have been -- the voter's intention was to vote for the vice president, Al Gore. And, obviously, they are still very pleased with that Supreme Court decision that these manual recounts will be counted.

The vice president himself will be going to a food bank today taking food to the homeless with his family. His wife, Tipper Gore, you know, has actually gone out of the White House in disguise in Washington, D.C., at times, to work with the homeless. This is a passion of hers.

So other than that, the vice president and his family will be quietly at their residence for Thanksgiving, although they are not ruling out meetings. As you heard last night, the vice president saying that it is time to look at the transition. The Gore campaign telling me that they have, actually, been looking at models of past transitions. They know how rapidly -- if once a recount takes place, if they are declared the victor -- how rapidly they will have to get a team in place.

And Democratic strategists are saying perhaps they might have to take a look at the team that they had planned to put in place. With all of this partisan bickering going on, they're going to -- both men, either George Bush or the vice president -- will need to have a pragmatic people in the cabinet, not just partisan politicians HARRIS: All right, thanks, Eileen O'Connor, reporting live in Washington.



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