Cheney has heart pump surgically installed; former VP's latest cardiac issue

By Michael D. Shear and David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 14, 2010; 6:11 PM

Former vice president Richard B. Cheney, who has long suffered with cardiac issues, underwent surgery last week to have a pump implanted into his heart, he announced Wednesday.

"I decided to take advantage of one of the new technologies available and have a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) implanted," Cheney said in a statement. "The LVAD is a small implantable pump that improves heart function and will enable me to resume an active life."

The announcement came just weeks after the 69-year-old politician was admitted to the hospital after experiencing discomfort. He was released after several days of receiving medication to treat a fluid buildup.

Cheney has had five heart attacks, the first coming when he was just 37 years old. His statement Wednesday was his most direct comment in years about his health.

"A few weeks ago, it became clear that I was entering a new phase of the disease when I began to experience increasing congestive heart failure," he said. "After a series of recent tests and discussions with my doctors, I decided to take advantage of one of the new technologies available."

The left ventricular assist device is a more modest version of the "artificial heart" that physicians have used for more than 25 years, without much success, to save people whose hearts are weakened by disease. The mechanism aids in pumping blood through the tens of thousands of miles of blood vessels in the body.

A pump is implanted in the chest and attached to the heart's main chamber, the left ventricle. It is powered by a wire that comes out though a hole in the skin and is attached to a battery pack, usually carried over the shoulder.

Originally, LVADs were designed to be used only for days or weeks, until a heart transplant could be performed. Both the chronic shortage of organs and improvements in the devices, however, have convinced some surgeons to implant them for permanent use.

The major hazards of the device are mechanical failure and the possibility of blood clots forming inside the pump, which could then travel to the brain and cause a stroke.

A recent study compared the two main types of LVADs -- one that pumps blood continuously, and one that pumps it in bursts, as does the heart. At two years after surgery, 46 percent of the people who got the continuous-flow devices were still alive and hadn't suffered a stroke, compared to 11 percent who got the other type.

The prognosis for people whose hearts are so weak that they need a transplant is very poor. Only 10 to 30 percent survive one year, even with optimal treatment involving many drugs.

It is not known whether Cheney is a candidate for heart transplant and is on a list awaiting an organ.

Cheney did not provide many details about last week's surgery at the Inova Fairfax Heart Center, but he credited medical treatment for enabling him to live with his heart disease.

"Over the years, excellent care from my doctors and advances in medicine and technology have allowed me to live a full and active life, for which I am very grateful," he said.

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