/ 12 February 2010

Bill Clinton doing well after heart procedure

Former US president Bill Clinton was recovering well on Thursday from a successful procedure to open a blocked artery in his heart after he had experienced chest discomfort, his doctor said.

Clinton (63) had quadruple heart bypass surgery in 2004 to free up four blocked arteries and the latest incident comes after he has travelled twice to Haiti to help recovery efforts after a devastating earthquake there.

Douglas Band, counsellor to Clinton, said the former president was admitted to New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital where two stents were placed in one of his coronary arteries.

“President Clinton is in good spirits, and will continue to focus on the work of his foundation and Haiti’s relief and long-term recovery efforts,” Band said in a statement.

Cardiologist Dr Allan Schwartz told reporters Clinton came to see him complaining of having discomfort in his chest for several days and that tests showed one of the arteries operated on in 2004 needed to be reopened.

“Of the four bypass grafts that he had six years ago, one of the bypass grafts was completely blocked,” Schwartz said. “The artery that had been supplied previously by this bypass graft was opened by placing the two stents.”

He said there was no indication Clinton had a heart attack or of any damage to his heart. Schwartz, head of cardiology at Columbia, said Clinton was up and walking around and should go home on Friday to resume his “very active lifestyle”. He said he could return to work as soon as Monday.

The doctor said the blocked artery was not a result of Clinton’s diet or lifestyle, which he described as “excellent”. He said the grafts Clinton received in 2004 have a failure rate of up to 20% at five to six years.

Schwartz said the main artery operated on in 2004 was “pristine”, meaning Clinton’s prognosis was “excellent”.

Clinton’s wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, arrived at the hospital at about 7.30pm, joining daughter Chelsea.

A senior administration official told Reuters that Secretary Clinton’s departure to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, planned for Friday, was delayed to Saturday but that the delay would not affect her meetings in the two countries.

The White House said Clinton told President Barack Obama that he felt “absolutely great” after the procedure.

“The president spoke to former president Clinton shortly before 7pm tonight and wished him a speedy recovery,” the White House said in a statement. “He said that the efforts in Haiti were too important for him to be laid up for too long and hopes he’ll be ready to get back to work as soon as possible.”

Placing the tiny mesh tubes to prop open heart arteries is a relatively quick and routine procedure among patients like Clinton who have suffered from heart disease. Stents are now often coated with drugs to help prevent reclogging.

Envoy to Haiti
Clinton was president from 1993 until 2001 and like many Americans he has struggled with his weight.

He presided over eight years of economic prosperity and political tumult during a presidency tarnished by a sex-and-perjury scandal that led to his impeachment and a bitter fight to stay in office.

While in office he was known for his love of burgers and junk food and was also seen regularly jogging.

After his 2004 operation he has looked fitter than while he was president — something he attributed to the South Beach diet, which excludes processed foods and favours lean meat.

Clinton joined with former president George HW Bush in a public campaign to raise money for survivors of the December 26 2004, tsunami in Asia that killed more than 300 000 people.

He also established a foundation to build his legacy beyond the White House which has pushed big companies and rich people to actively try to fix some of the world’s worst problems.

Most recently Clinton, as UN special envoy to Haiti, has coordinated relief efforts after the January 12 Haiti earthquake.

Just before his 2004 surgery, Clinton spoke on CNN’s Larry King Live, about his heart blockage: “Some of this is genetic and I may have done some damage in those years when I was too careless about what I ate … I’ve got a problem and I’ve got a chance to deal with it,” Clinton said.

Clinton, a former governor of Arkansas, had many policy setbacks, most notably on his plans for healthcare overhaul which he tried to tackle when he took office in 1993.

He remains popular despite the sex-and-perjury scandal involving his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky that indelibly marked his presidency.

The self-styled “man from Hope” was back on the presidential campaign trail in 2007 and 2008 when Hillary Clinton sought the White House on her own.

He was criticised for his stump style and some partly blamed him for her loss. Black leaders, long among his strongest allies, felt he demeaned then-Senator Obama with off-the-cuff comments about the role of race in politics.

Since Obama’s nomination and election, Clinton has worked to repair the relationship. – Reuters