Former president Bill Clinton was hospitalized yesterday and preparing for heart surgery early next week after he complained of shortness of breath and chest pain, prompting tests that revealed he is suffering from dangerous blockage of his coronary arteries.
Physicians were alarmed enough to insist that Clinton, 58, undergo bypass surgery with minimal delay at Manhattan's New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Media representatives gather at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, where Clinton is to have surgery.
(Gregory Bull -- AP)
Video: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking at the New York State Fair, confirmed that the former president will need surgery.
Transcript: Irving Kron, M.D., cardiovascular surgeon and chair of the Department of Surgery at University of Virginia Health Systems, discusses bypass surgery.
In a call from the hospital to CNN's "Larry King Live," Clinton said: "I guess I'm a little scared, but not much. I'm looking forward to it. I want to get back, I want to see what it's like to run five miles again.
"My blockage is so substantial, I think if I don't do this, there's virtually a 100 percent chance that I'll have a heart attack," he said.
Clinton's health scare -- a surprise for a man who had been declared in good health after years of intensive annual physicals in his White House years and afterward -- may have political implications. He has been relishing the prospect of hitting the campaign trail on behalf of Democratic nominee John F. Kerry and other candidates this fall.
He told his close friend and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe that he still plans to do that. "He told me he's raring to go," said the party chairman, who added that he began his phone conversation by observing that Clinton seemed to be taking extreme measures to cut into publicity over this week's Republican National Convention. "He's laughing and in great spirits."
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who heard the news about his diagnosis while in Syracuse, N.Y., said her husband will have the surgery "early next week." She said no information will be released until the surgery is completed and advised reporters to "enjoy your Labor Day weekend."
The procedure is invasive, requiring several days of hospitalization afterward, but in the vast majority of cases, it allows a return to full activity within a month, experts said.
The former president on Thursday went on his own initiative to Westchester Medical Center, near their Chappaqua home. He returned to his house Thursday night, then went back to the same facility yesterday morning for an angiogram, in which dye is inserted into the bloodstream, allowing physicians to capture an image of the blockage. After specialists saw the extent of Clinton's blockage, they sent him to New York-Presbyterian.
Before his diagnosis, Clinton had been planning to fly to Syracuse to join his wife at the New York State Fair. Instead, she canceled her appearances and flew to New York, where the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, joined her parents at the hospital.
"He's in excellent hands at one of the great hospitals in the world," Hillary Clinton said.
The former president, though he has labored against a tendency toward chubbiness, has been particularly fit over the past year. He has lifted weights and uses an elliptical trainer, friends and former aides said, and he has lost weight using a modified version of the South Beach Diet. But he told CNN last night that he had regained 10 pounds during a tour promoting his memoir, "My Life."
"Some of this is genetic, and I may have done some damage in those years when I was too careless about what I ate," the former president said.
Clinton passed a stress test at a recent physical designed to detect heart problems, McAuliffe said. An angiogram, which might have revealed the blockage earlier, would not ordinarily be performed, even in a presidential checkup, without symptoms suggesting it was warranted, heart experts said.