Dick Cheney Undergoes Heart Transplant
by Charlotte Libov
The heart transplant that former vice president Dick Cheney underwent on Saturday not only saved his life, but also will enable him to live another five-to-10 years, and even possibly facilitate his return to political life if he so chooses, says renowned cardiac physician and transplant cardiologist Dr. Chauncey Crandall.
“Physically, he’s going to feel youthful, invigorated, and like a new person with an energy level he hasn’t seen for decades. He’s going to be a dynamo,” said Dr. Crandall, who is chief of the cardiac transplant program at the Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach, Florida. He is also the author of Dr. Crandall’s Heart Health Report,” Newsmax’s monthly heart health newsletter.“
That Cheney finally underwent the procedure came as no surprise to Dr. Crandall, who had expected to learn of such news ever since it was revealed that Cheney had undergone surgery in July 2010 so a “left ventricular assist device,” or LVAD, was placed to keep his heart, which had been damaged from five heart attacks, beating. This is considered a “bridge” procedure to keep potential transplant recipients alive until a donor organ can be found.
“The bottom line is that Dick Cheney probably has been on a heart transplant list since the LVAD was placed, and the delay was either due to his making the decision or his being somewhat of a difficult match, but the fact is that he received it and I would expect his outcome to be very good,” said Dr. Crandall.
According to him, the transplant is expected to add five-to-10 years to Cheney’s life. In addition, Dr. Crandall added, there is no reason why Cheney could not go on to resume all of his normal activities, including international travel.
While Dr. Crandall has never treated Cheney, he has spent much of his 25-year career as a heart transplant cardiologist, including serving as Chief of the Heart Transplant Program at the Medical College of Virginia, the state where Cheney underwent his surgery.
That the former vice president received a new heart at the age of 71 was the topic of media debate over the weekend, but this is no longer unusual, said Dr. Crandall . “There used to be an age cutoff because the availability of hearts was limited, so the thought was always to give it to younger patients, because they are more likely to have families and a better chance of surviving longer. But we’ve found that older patients do well, so the feeling is that they should have a shot at it as well, he said.
In the past, a heart transplant required a young, healthy heart, but this has changed as well, and now hearts from older donors can also be used, especially when matched with older patients. “We are always looking for the perfect heart, but older patients don’t necessarily need to get a young heart. Nowadays, we can even use hearts that have some degree of heart disease in older patients because they wouldn’t have the same lifespan that a younger patient would,” Dr. Crandall noted.
However, because of the timing of the surgery, though, there is a good chance that the donor was young, Dr. Crandall added. “Anyone who has worked with heart transplants knows that you are more likely to get a transplant over any holiday weekend, and this was Spring Break, so the chances are likely that his heart came from a young person in a car accident,” he said.
As for Cheney’s recuperation, Dr. Crandall notes, “It will be the same as any other 71 year-old that’s undergone open-heart surgery. He expects the former vice president to be in the hospital for a week or possibly two. In addition, Cheney will also need to undergo frequent heart biopsies to analyze how his body is adjusting to the new heart, and determine how much immune-suppressing medication he needs to ensure his body does not attack the new, foreign organ.
“Typically, doctor’s blast patients with high doses of these medications early on and, as time passes, they reduce it,” Dr. Crandall said. However, the goal is to use as little as possible, but still prevent rejection. However, these are powerful drugs that cause adverse side effects that can cause both physical and emotional side effects, he noted.
“Heart transplant patients often have to deal with depression. They are also prone to extreme mood swings, and they also may suffer from outbursts of anger and frustration,” said Dr. Crandall. Down the road, he added, the former vice president would also have to be monitored for high blood pressure, kidney dysfunction, and also cancer, which can be a byproduct of having the immune system depressed.
However, the upside is that, after living so long with a failing heart, Cheney is bound to feel a new sense of vigor. “I think that probably one of the reasons that Dick Cheney did this is that he wants to return and be part of the Republican political campaign,” said Dr. Crandall, adding, He also has a strong will to live so his thought process was probably, ‘I want to live, and I want to contribute.’”