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Inside Politics

Clinton 'recovering normally' after bypass

Former president flooded with messages from well-wishers

Dr. Craig Smith uses a heart muscle to illustrate the surgery President Clinton underwent Monday.
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Clinton had a "relatively routine quadruple bypass operation."

Former President Clinton undergoes heart bypass surgery.

Clinton talks to CNN about his bypass surgery.
Mayo Clinic
Bill Clinton
Heart Surgery

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Former President Clinton successfully underwent a quadruple coronary artery bypass operation Monday, his doctor said.

"He's recovering normally at this point," Dr. Craig Smith, who performed the surgery, said. "I think, right now, everything looks straightforward."

The operation began at 8 a.m. and was complete around noon.

Doctors said Clinton was awake but still sedated and on a ventilator at 4:30 p.m.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton released a statement which said, "Chelsea and I thank God and the incredible medical team and staff here at New York-Presbyterian Hospital for taking such good care of my husband."

Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea, the couple's daughter, were at the hospital.

Two main methods can be used for the surgery. One temporarily stops the patient's heart; the other takes place on a beating heart.

Doctors said Clinton had undergone the procedure which stopped his heart because it appeared to be the safest method in this case.

A device commonly called a pump was used to oxygenate and circulate Clinton's blood.

In the bypass operation, healthy blood vessels were taken from the chest wall itself as well as from Clinton's leg. The healthy vessels were then stitched in to bypass the diseased vessels.

Before beginning the operation Monday, doctors made sure blood-thinning medicine had made its way through Clinton's system.

Clinton probably will spend the night in the intensive care unit and be moved to the general care floor in a day or so, said CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

The surgery is considered fairly routine -- more than 300,000 such procedures are conducted each year -- and has a survival rate of 99 percent, Gupta said.

Medical records show New York-Presbyterian had a death rate of 3.93 percent for coronary bypass operations performed in 2001 -- higher than the 2.18 percent overall rate for the 35 hospitals in the state that perform them.

U.S. News & World Report magazine listed New York-Presbyterian as the best hospital in New York for heart care and seventh best nationwide.

At 58, Clinton would seem to be a likely candidate for a successful recovery.

Patients often experience some aches and fatigue as they're recovering from a heart bypass. Some experience depression.

Clinton went to the hospital Friday after experiencing mild chest pain and shortness of breath.

An angiogram showed he had blockages in some coronary arteries, caused by fatty plaque over the years, doctors said.

Clinton's exercise and diet routines in recent years have been well-known, but when he left office in early 2001 his cholesterol level was at 233 milligrams per deciliter, above the upper edge of normal, which is 200. Most doctors recommend even lower levels.

Clinton's LDL, or so-called "bad cholesterol" level, was 177 and jumped 40 points in the last year of his presidency. Normal is considered less than 130.

In a telephone interview Friday with CNN's "Larry King Live," Clinton 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."

Clinton said he had stopped taking cholesterol medicine because he had gotten his cholesterol level "down low." He also lowered his blood pressure level, he said.

"Some of this is genetic, and I may have done some damage in those years when I was too careless about what I ate," he said.

Without the surgery, he said that "there is virtually 100 percent chance I'll have a heart attack."

Clinton family thanks the public

More than 30,000 messages of support have been posted on the Clinton foundation's Web site, his spokesman said.

In a statement Sunday, the former president, his wife and daughter thanked the public and said, "We are fortunate to have great health care coverage -- and continue to hope for the day when every American will enjoy this basic right.

"While bypass surgery certainly isn't something to look forward to, we are very lucky that the condition was detected in time to have this procedure before something more serious occurred. It is a reminder that, while diet and exercise are important, nothing substitutes for regular checkups and talking to your doctor whenever you have questions about any serious pains or discomfort you are experiencing."

The statement added, "This sure isn't how we planned to spend Labor Day weekend 2004, but we're doing our best to enjoy it, and hope that you and your family have a safe and happy weekend. And don't forget to take some time on Monday to honor America's working men and women, for whom this holiday was created."

The Clintons also asked people to "say a prayer" for Floridians suffering through Hurricane Frances and for Russians "who have experienced so much tragic loss in recent days. Reminders of the preciousness of life are all around us, and teach us to treasure each day and value one another all the more."

The former president has been in good spirits. He spoke with Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry by phone over the weekend.

He told Larry King he was optimistic about his recovery and joked, "Republicans aren't the only people that want four more years here."

CNN's John King and Sam Feist contributed to this report.

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