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Clinton to have follow-up to heart surgery

Doctors: Condition 'uncommon' but surgery low-risk

Clinton laughs after talking Tuesday to reporters about his upcoming surgery.
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Former President Clinton to undergo follow-up heart surgery.

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Former President Clinton will undergo surgery this week to drain fluid and remove scar tissue from the left part of his chest, physicians said Tuesday.

The procedure is needed as a result of the open heart surgery Clinton had last year, a team of doctors said at a news conference.

Physicians described the complication as "quite uncommon" but the surgery as relatively low risk.

The former president, 58, underwent a four-hour quadruple bypass operation in September when doctors said they found extensive heart disease. Some arteries were more than 90 percent blocked. (Full story)

The corrective surgery will take place Thursday morning at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, where Clinton also had the earlier surgery.

"What has happened here is an extremely unusual result of a common process," said Dr. Craig Smith, who performed Clinton's bypass operation.

Smith said that in more than 6,000 bypass surgeries he has seen a "handful" of patients, "less than 10," who developed Clinton's condition.

Clinton is expected to remain in the hospital for three to 10 days, said Dr. Joshua Sonett, who is performing the surgery.

"This is a relatively low-risk procedure, and we expect full functional recovery in a limited amount of time," Sonett said.

On his way into the State Department on Tuesday in Washington, Clinton said, "I'm doing great." He indicated that he would speak with reporters later about his health.

The planned procedure is known as a decortication and will require general anesthesia, doctors said.

"The scar tissue developed as a result of fluid and inflammation causing compression and collapse of the lower lobe of the left lung," said a statement from Clinton's office released earlier Tuesday. "The surgery will be done either through a small incision or with a video-assisted thoracoscope inserted between ribs."

Once fully recovered, Clinton is expected to resume his activities "without limitations," the statement said.

Recently, he traveled with former President George H.W. Bush to South Asia to survey damaged caused by tsunamis.

Clinton's office said he will continue his schedule Tuesday, including joining the senior Bush to brief President Bush on conditions in Asia.

Dr. Alan Schwartz, a cardiologist who treated Clinton after his bypass surgery last year, said the former president has embarked on a vigorous exercise program, walking four miles a day when he is at home in Chappaqua, New York.

Schwartz said that Clinton passed a stress test recently with "flying colors" but had begun to feel some discomfort.

"He had noticed over the past month or so that on steep hills he was getting winded a bit more easily," the doctor said. "At the same time he was beginning to feel a bit of discomfort."

Schwartz said Clinton's trip to Asia neither caused nor worsened his condition.

Schwartz said Clinton would play golf Wednesday before having the surgery the next day.

"This is an elective procedure," Schwartz said. "This is not an emergency."

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