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HEALTH REPORT - Bill Clinton's Heart Bypass - 2004-09-14

Broadcast: September 15, 2004

This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Former President Bill Clinton is recovering from a major heart operation on Monday of last week. Mister Clinton had a coronary bypass operation to improve blood flow to his heart. Doctors at New York Presbyterian Hospital performed the four-hour operation.

Mister Clinton was hospitalized after suffering chest pains and shortness of breath the week before. Tests showed he had serious blockages in four of his coronary arteries. Some were blocked by as much as ninety percent. Doctors say that without the operation, Mister Clinton probably would have had a major heart attack in the near future.

Most arteries carry blood away from the heart. Coronary arteries supply blood and oxygen to the heart muscle. Doctors perform bypass operations when these arteries become blocked by cholesterol or fatty material called plaque.

Doctors take an artery or vein from the patient’s chest or leg and use it to go around, or bypass, a blocked artery. In Mister Clinton’s case, doctors used two arteries from the chest and a vein from the leg.

During the operation, Mister Clinton’s heart was stopped for seventy-three minutes. Blood flow and breathing are taken over by a heart-lung machine. That process is used for more than seventy-five percent of bypass patients. But it carries a small risk of stroke and nervous system damage.

Some patients with less severe blockages can be treated with medications. Others can be treated with angioplasty. That is when doctors expand a balloon-like device inside the arteries to clear the blockage.

Mister Clinton is fifty-eight years old. He recently lost weight on a new diet and his cholesterol level dropped. But he had been experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath for several months. He says he did not recognize these as warning signs of heart disease. He thought there were other explanations, like not enough exercise.

He said part of his heart condition was linked to a family history of the disease, but part of it was his poor eating habits. Doctors say Mister Clinton must follow a low-salt, low-fat diet and take medications to keep his arteries clear.

The American Heart Association says coronary heart disease kills almost a half-million people a year in the United States. It is the leading cause of death among Americans.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Gwen Outen.