Dick Cheney Gets a New Heart

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is resting comfortably in a Virgina hospital after receiving a heart transplant yesterday.

The 71-year-old has a long history of cardiovascular disease. Once a heavy smoker, Cheney sustained the first of five heart attacks in 1978, at age 37.  He underwent a quadruple coronary artery bypass grafting in 1988, coronary artery stenting in November 2000, urgent coronary balloon angioplasty in March 2001, and the implantation of an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator in June, 2001.

In July 2010,  in response to increasing congestive heart failure,  Cheney received a ventricular assist device, a mechanical pump to help his heart pump better, support heart function and blood flow in people who have weakened hearts.

Ultimately, Cheney’s condition required a heart transplant, and he has been on the transplant waiting list for 20 months.

“It is infinitely better to transplant a heart than to bury it to be devoured by worms. “

Christiaan Barnard– First Physician to Perform a Heart Transplant

A heart transplant is surgery to remove a person’s diseased heart and replace it with a healthy heart from a deceased donor. Most heart transplants are done on patients who have end-stage heart failure.

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is damaged or weak. As a result, it can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. “End-stage” means the condition is so severe that all treatments, other than a heart transplant, have failed.

Heart transplants are done as a life-saving measure for end-stage heart failure.

Because donor hearts are in short supply, patients who need heart transplants go through a careful selection process. They must be sick enough to need a new heart, yet healthy enough to receive it.

Survival rates for people receiving heart transplants have improved, especially in the first year after the transplant. About 88 percent of patients survive the first year after transplant surgery, and 75 percent survive for 5 years. The 10-year survival rate is about 56 percent.

The Heart Transplant Waiting List

Patients who are eligible for a heart transplant are added to a waiting list for a donor heart. This waiting list is part of a national allocation system for donor organs. The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Networkexternal link icon (OPTN) runs this system. OPTN has policies in place to make sure donor hearts are given out fairly. These policies are based on urgency of need, available organs, and the location of the patient who is receiving the heart (the recipient).

Organs are matched for blood type and size of donor and recipient.

About 3,000 people in the United States are on the waiting list for a heart transplant on any given day. About 2,000 donor hearts are available each year. Wait times vary from days to several months and will depend on a recipient’s blood type and condition.

What To Expect During a Heart Transplant

Surgeons use open-heart surgery to do heart transplants. The surgeon will make a large incision in the patient’s chest to open the rib cage and operate on the heart.

A heart-lung bypass machine is hooked up to the heart’s arteries and veins. The machine pumps blood through the patient’s lungs and body during the surgery.

The surgeon removes the patient’s diseased heart and sews the healthy donor heart into place. The patient’s aorta and pulmonary arteries are not replaced as part of the surgery.

Heart transplant surgery usually takes about 4 hours. Patients often spend the first days after surgery in the intensive care unit of the hospital.


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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