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Clinton Hospitalized in N.Y., Awaits Quadruple Bypass

The former president was admitted after experiencing chest pain and trouble breathing.

September 04, 2004|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Former President Clinton was admitted to a Manhattan hospital Friday after complaining of chest pains and difficulty breathing, and is scheduled to have quadruple heart bypass surgery early next week, said his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Clinton, 58, had experienced discomfort Thursday evening. He went to a hospital near his home in suburban Chappaqua, N.Y., where several cardiac tests came back with normal results, his office said.

But doctors urged Clinton to have additional tests, and an angiogram performed at Northern Westchester Hospital on Friday morning revealed significant blockage in the arteries leading to his heart. Physicians advised him to have immediate surgery.

Several hours later, Clinton checked into a private VIP wing on the ninth floor of New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, according to hospital sources.

Clinton called into CNN's "Larry King Live" on Friday night as the host was discussing the former president's condition with several physicians, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.

"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," Clinton told King. "Let me just say this: Republicans aren't the only people who want four more years here."

King asked whether he was frightened about the surgery.

"Well not as much as I thought I would be," Clinton said. "My blockage is so substantial, I think if I don't do this, there is virtually 100% chance I'll have a heart attack.

"I want to get back -- I want to see what it's like to run five miles again," he said.

Clinton, the nation's 42nd president, has no known history of heart disease. During recent months, he has lost weight, looking fit during public appearances. He attributed his weight loss to the South Beach diet and told a recent gathering at Columbia University that "hours in the gym" had made him feel healthy. He also said he had been working out at home with a trainer three times a week.

"We talked through the day [Thursday] and he said he felt fine, not to worry," said Rodham Clinton, who cut short an appearance at the New York State Fair in Syracuse on Friday to be with her husband. "We have to follow through on the doctors' recommendations now, and he's in excellent hands. He's in one of the great hospitals of the world."

During bypass surgery, a new blood vessel -- usually taken from a patient's leg -- is sewn in to help blood flow around an arterial blockage. Most such operations are successful, doctors said, and patients can resume a healthy, active life.

Clinton and his Secret Service retinue checked into New York-Presbyterian's Einstein Pavilion, a few miles from his Harlem office; he was joined later in the day by his wife and daughter, Chelsea, 24. Clinton spent part of the morning telephoning friends and national Democratic Party leaders, informing them of his hospitalization and impending surgery.

He had planned to campaign during the next two months for Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, but now can expect a recovery period of four to six weeks.

Despite Clinton's healthy appearance, he and other patients often pay a price -- in the form of clogged arteries -- for years of unhealthy eating.

More than 350,000 bypass operations are performed each year in this country, and the success rate is high, medical experts said. Although Clinton was urged to have surgery quickly, it is not believed that he had a heart attack, sources aid.

Clinton had a precancerous lesion removed from his nose in 1996, and a benign cyst was taken off his chest in 1995. He has struggled with weight and high cholesterol levels for years, and also has allergies.

Both President Bush and Kerry offered Clinton their best wishes Friday.

"We just received news that President Clinton has been hospitalized in New York," Bush said as a hush fell over an otherwise raucous crowd in West Allis, Wis. "He is in our thoughts and prayers. We send him our best wishes for a swift and speedy recovery."

Bush also called Clinton from Air Force One to wish him well, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said.

Kerry began a rally in Newark, Ohio, Friday afternoon by telling the thousands gathered on the courthouse lawn that Clinton was in the hospital.

"He's going to be fine," Kerry reassured them. "Every single one of us wants to extend to him our best wishes, our prayers and our thoughts. I want you all to let a cheer out ... that he can hear all the way to New York."

With that, the crowd broke into extended whoops, cheers and applause.

In the last few months, Clinton has been traveling extensively, promoting his bestselling autobiography, "My Life." On Wednesday, he appeared in Louisiana before a crowd of more than 1,000 people who lined up for a signed copy.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), a physician who has had similar heart surgery, told an MSNBC-TV interviewer that psychologically, the former president is in a difficult situation: "He's learned very quickly that within 48 hours he's likely to be on the operating table. Right now, he's going through a wind tunnel of emotions."

Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak in New York and Matea Gold in Ohio contributed to this report.

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