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Clinton Leaves Hospital After Heart Procedure

Former President Bill Clinton, at a benefit concert for Haiti on Feb. 5, survived impeachment and rehabilitated his reputation.
Donald Traill
Former President Bill Clinton, at a benefit concert for Haiti on Feb. 5, survived impeachment and rehabilitated his reputation.

Former President Bill Clinton headed home Friday after undergoing a procedure at a New York hospital to open blocked arteries and restore blood flow to his heart.

"President Clinton was released from New York Presbyterian-Columbia this morning in excellent health," Douglas Band, counselor to Clinton, said in a statement. "He looks forward in the days ahead to getting back to the work of his foundation, and to Haiti relief and recovery efforts."

Clinton, 63, was admitted after complaining of chest discomfort. Two tiny mesh stents were placed inside the artery as part of a medical procedure that is common for people with severe heart disease.

In 2004, Clinton underwent quadruple bypass surgery at the same hospital after he experienced similar chest pains. Cardiologist Dr. Allan Schwartz said it is common for bypasses to get clogged and require stents even among people who, like Clinton, have followed medical advice.

Schwartz said the former president "has really toed the line in terms of diet and exercise. He's followed an excellent program."

The doctors placed both stents into the same artery. They have said Clinton can resume a healthy, active lifestyle. He is expected to be back to work Monday.

Thursday's procedure took about an hour. By the evening, Clinton was up and walking around, his physicians said.

Schwartz also said Clinton did the right thing by seeking medical attention after experiencing discomfort in his chest. He stressed that the discomfort is not necessarily pain nor the result of his busy lifestyle.

An Increasingly Common Procedure

Thursday's procedure was not as involved as the 2004 surgery, NPR health editor Joe Neel said on All Things Considered.

"He had some discomfort, he was feeling tired and he went to a cardiologist," Neel said, describing the events that led to Clinton's hospital trip.

At the hospital, in a process called angioplasty, a long, thin tube called a catheter is fed through an incision in the groin all the way to the heart.

"In this procedure, there would be a balloon on the end of [the catheter]," Neel said. "They would take X-rays while they're doing this, inject dyes and determine whether ... [Clinton's] arteries were actually closing down, whether there was any significant damage to the heart and muscle.

"Since we're hearing that he had two stents put in one artery, there must have been some significant weakening in those arteries," Neel said.

Angioplasty has become one of the most common medical procedures done worldwide. More than a half-million stents are placed each year in the United States.

The Prognosis

Clinton's health problems are not to be minimized, but there's no reason to believe he can't resume his active public life. "It's not all that uncommon for people to undergo multiple surgical procedures on their heart and live a long time," Neel noted.

In Clinton's case, a few months after the four-hour bypass surgery he underwent in 2004, doctors found scar tissue on his left lung.

"That's not unusual either, because during the heart bypass procedure, you're ... put on a heart-lung machine, and fluid can build up," Neel said. "So they took out the scar tissue, and as far as we know, he recovered and has been doing fine since then."

"It's not unexpected" for Clinton to need another procedure now, said Dr. Clyde Yancy, cardiologist at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and president of the American Heart Association.

The sections of arteries and veins used to create detours around the original blockages tend to develop clogs five to 10 years after a bypass, he explained. New blockages also can develop in new areas.

"This kind of disease is progressive. It's not a one-time event, so it really points out the need for constant surveillance" and treating risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, Yancy said.

Overcoming Bad Eating Habits, Family History

Clinton entered the White House with a reputation for eating habits that left a trail of fast-food wrappers in his wake. Two of his favorite Arkansas restaurants were known for their huge hamburgers and thick steaks. He also has noted a history of heart disease on his mother's side of the family.

Early in office, he dropped in at a Washington, D.C., McDonald's for a bite during a morning jog.

"He's made note of his efforts to cut down on fatty food and exercise more," NPR's Joanne Silberner said. "But arteries tend to reclog, and that's evidently what happened here."

The clog is caused as fat collects within the wall of the artery, pushing the wall into the space where blood should be flowing. A stent pushes the inner wall back into place and supports it there.

Hard Work On Haiti

Clinton, who served as president from 1993-2001, has been working in recent weeks to help relief efforts in Haiti. Since leaving office, he has maintained a busy schedule working on humanitarian projects through his foundation.

Clinton "will continue to focus on the work of his foundation and Haiti's relief and long-term recovery efforts," Band said.

Former President George W. Bush, who has recently worked with Clinton on Haiti relief efforts, called Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, to tell her that "he looks forward to continuing to work with his friend," according to a statement released by a Bush spokesman.

President Obama called the hospital Thursday night to wish Clinton a speedy recovery, the White House said.

From NPR staff reports and The Associated Press

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