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Clinton: Angiogram 'probably saved my life'

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CNN's Larry King talks to Bill Clinton about his condition.
Bill Clinton

(CNN) -- Former President Bill Clinton's office announced Friday that he had experienced mild chest pain and would undergo a quadruple-bypass operation. During a panel discussion on CNN's "Larry King Live," Clinton called in to discuss his health.

KING: How are you feeling?

CLINTON: I feel great. And I've enjoyed this program. And Dr. [Wayne] Isom explained why we are going to delay this surgery for a couple of days. But I feel really blessed, you know, because a lot of people who have a heart attack never get any advance warning, as Dr. [Bill] Frist said, or Senator Frist said.

I've had some difficulty ever since I got out of the White House in getting my distance up in running. And I just had a feeling a couple of days ago I had to have it checked, when I finally got some tightness in my chest. And I hadn't done any exercise. That's the first time that ever happened to me, and we did this angiogram and found out I had blockage that was too significant to open and put a stent in. We had to do the whole surgery. So I'm trying to get my head in the game.

KING: But you look so great. You lost so much weight. Didn't you think that if you had a problem, it was over?

CLINTON: Well, no. I've also been treating the high cholesterol and then I stopped taking that medicine because I got my cholesterol down low. And I had, in the past, had a little blood pressure problem, which I've treated and then I got it down.

But, you know, some of this is genetic, and I may have done some damage in those years when I was too careless about what I ate. So for whatever reason, I've got a problem, and I've got a chance to deal with it, and I feel that I really got to -- let me just say this, Republicans aren't the only people who want four more years here.

KING: Well, the whole world is watching. We appreciate you giving us this time. But I must ask this question, in all fairness. Are you a little frightened?

CLINTON: Well, not as much as I thought I would be. You know, I don't -- I grew up, as you know, in a home where my mother was an anesthetist. I knew doctors. I knew surgeons. I think the first time I ever saw any serious surgery, I was about 12 years old. I know what's involved, and I know what the options are. I mean, I think that -- there is virtually -- my blockage is so substantial, I think if I don't do this, there is virtually 100 percent chance I'll have a heart attack.

And I've been very lucky. I don't have any heart damage now. If I do the procedure, it has been done now for some few decades, and an enormous number of them are done -- you pointed out you've had it, David Letterman has had it, a whole slew of my friends have had it. Without exception, the people I know have good years afterwards. I'm just going to have to be really careful. I've put about 10 pounds of that weight I had lost back on on my book tour, and I've got to take it off, and you know, just do everything I can to try to keep my cholesterol down, keep my blood pressure down.

But I agree with whoever it was that said that we ought to have a lot of these exams, that you got the early warning signs, that you can get your cholesterol and blood pressure down, that's a big thing. And then, at some point, I understand why there is a reluctance to do angiograms here and invasive surgery. But I aced my stress test, four, five years in a row, every year I was in the White House and every year since, so that's more than four or five years.

So about 10 percent of the people, for whatever reason, are in good enough health that they just do fine on the stress test and they still have a problem. And I was one of them. So I think if people have a family history there, and high cholesterol and high blood pressure, they ought to consider the angiogram, even if they don't have the symptoms I had. There is some chance of damage there, but it's like 1 in 1,000. And I really think it probably saved my life.

And I'm very grateful to ... all the great people at Westchester County who did that, and then these people at Columbia Presbyterian. I just feel just grateful. 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.

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