Just about the time his cholesterol was getting out of whack, cholesterol-reducing statin drugs were becoming a reliable treatment.
Just about the time he needed a way to keep his heart working while awaiting a transplant, the left ventricular assist device was becoming a reliable treatment.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has had a lot of heart problems – five heart attacks and a heart transplant. He’s also been incredibly fortunate with his timing, often developing a particular problem right when medical technology was ready to solve it.
Cheney’s medical journey parallels his high-profile role in politics and makes him an ideal candidate to discuss the changes in care over the years. On Monday, he’ll offer a patient’s perspective as part of a panel discussion at Scientific Sessions 2014, the American Heart Association’s annual flagship event focused on cardiovascular medicine.
In February, Cheney spoke at a Go Red For Women event in Dallas. He offered a nice analogy for how his conditions synched with scientific advancements.
“It was like being late for work and every stop light ahead is red – but, for me, they all turned green,” he said.
The session featuring Cheney is titled “Living with Heart Failure: Patient, Physician, Surgeon and Nurse Perspectives.” He will appear along with his physician, surgeon and nurse.
Cheney will present a 15-minute lecture on what it’s like to live with an LVAD and will participate in a panel discussion, along with his longtime cardiologist, Dr. Jonathan Reiner. Other panelists are surgeon Dr. Alan Speir and Kathleen L. Grady, a professor in cardiac surgery at Northwestern University in Chicago. Former AHA presidents Dr. Clyde Yancy and Dr. Mariell Jessup will be the moderators.
Cheney is certainly well-versed in being a heart patient.
In the summer of 2010, Cheney was backing his Jeep out of his garage in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, when he suddenly blacked out. At 69, he was told that he needed a new heart.
“I had come to grips with the notion that I’d reached the end of my days,” he said.
He didn’t, thanks to the LVAD, which he received in July 2010. That kept him going until he received a transplant in March 2012.
A history of heart disease on both sides of Cheney’s family contributes to his health problems. His habit of smoking two to three packs of cigarettes a day as a rising star in President Gerald Ford’s administration is another factor.
“In D.C., it was encouraged,” he said of the pervasive culture of smoking in the 1970s. “The cigarette companies provided us with free cigarettes. They would come in white boxes with a gold presidential seal. If you really wanted to impress in those days, all you had to do was whip out your presidential cigarettes. I had a carton of cigarettes always on my desk.”
That all changed after his first heart attack in 1978. By that time, medical research had revealed how people could prevent heart attacks: being active, controlling cholesterol, eating better, managing blood pressure, losing weight, reducing blood sugar and stopping smoking.
“His heart health is really the story of modern cardiovascular medicine,” Reiner said at the February event. “He’s been around for each of these remarkable medical advances.”