T Nation

Clinton Heart Surgery

Here’s to wishing the President a full and speedy recovery.

Ex-President Clinton
To Undergo Surgery

September 3, 2004 2:39 p.m.

WASHINGTON – Former President Bill Clinton checked himself into a New York hospital Friday after complaining of mild chest pains. He is expected to undergo heart surgery, possibly as soon as this weekend.

Mr. Clinton was admitted to New York Presbyterian Hospital after seeing a doctor yesterday, according to a statement from his office. He went to Northern Westchester Hospital yesterday afternoon after experiencing shortness of breath. Initial testing was normal and he spent the night at his home in Chappaqua, N.Y.

On Friday morning, however, Mr. Clinton’s doctors called him in for additional tests. An x-ray examination of Mr. Clinton’s arteries revealed “extensive coronary disease,” according to a person familiar with the situation.

The additional tests led doctors to advise the former president to have bypass surgery and “to do it as soon as he could,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday, during a quick stop at a state fair in Syracuse. The former first lady and her husband were scheduled to take a two-day campaign swing through upstate New York but the trip was canceled so Mrs. Clinton could join her daughter Chelsea at the former president’s bedside.

The former president has a long history of weight fluctuations and a weakness for unhealthy snacks, but had recently lost weight on a low-carb diet in preparation for an extended tour to promote his best-selling autobiography “My Life.”

Joe Lockhart, Mr. Clinton’s former White House press secretary and now an adviser to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, said the nature of the former president’s heart problem “seems routine” at a time when millions of Americans have undergone successful bypass surgery.

The development’s political impact, if any, is likely to be marginal. In tandem with Hurricane Frances, it seized the attention of the nation’s news media immediately following President Bush’s Republican convention speech. That could interfere with Mr. Bush’s convention “bounce,” since favorable publicity following political conventions often contributes to progress in the polls. At the same time, it obscured the feisty counterattack that Sen. Kerry launched to a litany of Republican charges.

Mr. Clinton’s condition could also keep him off the campaign trail in the 2004 homestretch – especially in places like his native Arkansas base where the former president might make a significant difference. At the same time, a Kerry strategist observed, bypass surgery could stimulate national sympathy for Mr. Clinton that, by extension, could modestly benefit his party.

Mr. Clinton, 58 years old, had a cancerous growth removed from his back shortly after leaving office in early 2001. It turned out to be basal cell carcinoma, the most treatable form of skin cancer. In 1996, he had had a precancerous lesion removed from his nose and a year before that had a benign cyst taken off his chest.

Other than that, Mr. Clinton has had the normal health problems that often accompany aging – periods of slightly elevated cholesterol and hearing loss – and an appetite for junk food. In 1997, he was fitted with hearing aids. He has also suffered from allergies.

An angiogram given to Mr. Clinton revealed “significant blockage,” said a Democratic official, who had discussed the condition with the former president’s staff. It did not appear that Mr. Clinton suffered a heart attack, he said. Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

Mr. Kerry, speaking at a rally in Newark, Ohio, said of Mr. Clinton: "He’s going to be fine ? But every single one of us wants to extend to him our best wishes, our prayers and our thoughts and I want you all to let a cheer out and clap that he can hear all the way to New York.’’

President Bush today wished Mr. Clinton “best wishes for a swift and speedy recovery.”

“He’s is in our thoughts and prayers,” Mr. Bush said at a campaign rally. Mr. Bush’s audience of thousands in West Allis, Wis., booed.

– Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Winslow and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Write to Amy Schatz at Amy.Schatz@wsj.com and John Harwood at john.harwood@wsj.com