Cheney will likely have defibrillator implanted, aides say
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney entered a hospital in Washington on Saturday, where he will likely have a small defibrillator implanted to monitor and electronically slow abnormal heart rhythms, aides say.
Cheney announced Friday he would go into the hospital for tests and for possible implantation of some device to regulate his heart rhythm. Aides told CNN it was very likely Cheney would have a defibrillator implanted.
Cheney, 60, has a 23-year history of heart problems, including four heart attacks.
Saturday's tests and the possible surgical procedure will be the latest in a series of recent efforts by the vice president's Washington-based team of doctors to stem the effects of his longstanding coronary artery disease.
Smiling as he spoke to reporters, Cheney said if he undergoes the outpatient procedure, he expects to be back home by Saturday evening and would return to work Monday morning.
Speaking about an hour after the vice president, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said President George W. Bush downplayed what Fleischer called a "routine procedure."
"The president has full faith ... the vice president can take care of himself," Fleischer said.
The vice president, at ease as he delivered his news in a hastily called White House news conference, said the tests are necessary because of what showed up when he wore a Holter cardiac monitor for about 34 hours two weeks ago -- an occasionally irregular heartbeat.
"(The monitor) detected some minor periods, very short periods, one to two seconds each, of rapid heart rate," Cheney said. "I can't feel anything when it happens. I am asymptomatic, nothing shows externally with respect to that.
"But it does raise the possibility that I may need to have implanted, sort of -- I think of a 'pacemaker plus.' It is something called an ICD, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator," the vice president said.
The device briefly passes an electric current through the heart. It has the ability to monitor and correct abnormal heart rhythms.
Cheney said he would first undergo a cardiac catheterization -- a procedure in which doctors insert wires into a vein in his groin and thread them up into his heart. Those wires would be used to test his heart rate.
Cheney said his staff chose to make the detailed revelations to the press because his health has become a matter of public record. He also said he did not wish for the public to receive false information or come to the wrong conclusions.
"The vice president himself wanted to share the information with his own words," Fleischer said referring to Cheney's quickly called news conference. "He wanted to be the first voice on it, and I think that's totally appropriate."
Bush, Cheney said, was in full agreement with his actions. "He strongly recommended I go forward and have the procedure.
"I discussed this with the president on Tuesday of this week and told him this was a likely course of action," Cheney said. "I thought it was important to tell you today because there is great interest for understandable reasons. Misinformation does arise.
"I have to believe I am probably the most prominent, most thoroughly analyzed heart patient in America today," Cheney said.
Cheney suffered his first heart attack in 1978, at age 37, and has had three since. His most recent heart attack occurred a handful of days into the ballot recount controversy in Florida in November.
Cheney underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 1988.
In March, Cheney entered a Washington hospital to have a stent implanted in a heart artery after the November incident began to close at one end. He underwent an urgent procedure to force the stent open, and was back at work in the White House less than 36 hours after the quick surgery.
He insisted Friday that the surgery he expected was invasive but not serious, and his doctors would have recommended such action for anyone his age with his level of heart disease.
"I asked my doctors if I were a retired government bureaucrat and not vice president of the United States, is this something you would recommend? And they said 'yes,'" he said, adding, "There is no sense of urgency about it."
Cheney said he was sticking faithfully to his diet, prepared by Navy stewards at the vice president's official residence, and was exercising almost every day on a stationary bicycle. His physical activity, he said, had nothing to do with the irregular heartbeat.
Joking with reporters, Cheney, who headed the president's energy use task force and oversaw the drafting of the administration's wide-ranging energy policy, said the ICD provided a model for efficient consumption of energy.
"It lasts for five to eight years," he said. "I am told it's an energy-efficient device."
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