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Friday, February 12, 2010

The former Commander in Chief toed the line: Bill Clinton's self-care

Former President Bill Clinton, now 63, has a history of heart trouble. In 2004, he experienced chest pain and shortness of breath, and had quadruple coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery. Later, feeling that it was hard to breathe because of a rare complication of scar tissue and fluid build-up in his lung, he had another operation, in March 2005.

He experienced chest pain again a few days ago, and had another operation on Thursday. Surgeons in a New York hospital placed two stents (metal mesh tubes) inside a blocked heart artery to prop it open, after his bypass graft had become obstructed. Such vein segments taken from the patient's leg often become clogged in this way after a few years, requiring another operation.

I've seen stent surgery, and it's magical. The surgeon snakes a long narrow tube up several feet through a tiny incision in the inside upper thigh of the patient, while the surgeon watches a monitor that shows the patient's arteries and the progress of the long sheath, illuminated as needed by puffs of a fluoroscopic dye. The stent, initially compressed, is slid through the sheath, opening itself as it leaves the sheath. The only analogy is the way that a model ship in a bottle snaps out into its final form after emerging through the bottleneck. Finally, only a Bandaid is needed to protect the site of the incision.

Mr. Clinton did not suffer a heart attack. (Indeed, he was continuing to talk on a cell phone about relief and recovery efforts in Haiti, even as he was being wheeled into the operating room.) Rather, he heeded his body's signals by seeking medical attention promptly.

The head of Cardiology at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital, Dr. Allan Schwartz, noted that "President Clinton has really toed the line in terms of diet and exercise," and said his cholesterol numbers were normal.

Advice to middle-aged men with chest pain:
Don't ignore your body's pain signals.

Read another story of a famous person’s successful heart surgery. Thanks to Peter Baker and Angela Macropoulos for the source story in today's New York Times.

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