For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 29, 2001
Statement by the Vice President
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
9:32 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good
morning. I wanted to take a minute this morning to spend a
little bit of time explaining -- since there is so much interest in my
health -- that I'm going to undergo a test tomorrow at George
Washington University Hospital. It's called an
electrophysiology study. It specifically is performed for
the purpose of determining the perspective risk for me going forward,
in terms of abnormal heart rhythms.
For somebody with my background and record,
with respect to coronary artery disease and previous heart attacks,
there is that possibility of abnormal heartbeats. And about
two weeks ago we did a test -- it's, in effect, an electrocardiogram
that you wear for a long period of time -- the testing period is about
34 hours over a weekend. And it detected some minor periods,
very short periods, one to two seconds each, of rapid heart rate.
I can't feel anything when it happens; I'm
asymptomatic, nothing shows externally, with respect to
that. But it does raise the possibility that I may need to
have implanted, sort of, I think of it as a pacemaker-plus. It's
something called an ICD, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator.
We've got a press here shortly that will explain all these terms for
you. It's a pacemaker-plus, it goes under the skin and is wired into
the heart, and it has the ability to monitor your heart rhythms and if,
in fact, you develop an irregular rhythm, then the ICD acts to correct
it and to restore a normal rhythm.
I expect this -- I look on this as an
insurance policy. It may never actually be needed but, if it
is, then it's obviously the right thing to do to have it
implanted. The device, itself, is good for about five to
eight years before it needs to be replaced. About 100,000 of
these procedures are done every year around the country.
As I say, when I go in tomorrow, the first
thing we'll do is the test. And assuming the test shows what we think
it will show, then we'll go forward and actually implant the device, as
I would expect to return home tomorrow
afternoon. It is basically an outpatient
procedure. I will be sedated during the time of the
procedure, but to return home tomorrow night. And I would
expect to be back at work on Monday, if everything goes as planned.
This is unrelated to the stent process that we
went through earlier this year. And once we've completed the
procedure tomorrow, then we'll arrange for a briefing by my doctors to
answer questions about the procedure, itself.
Q Mr. Vice President,
can you continue in your current job with this
procedure? And do you have any long-term doubts about your
ability to remain Vice President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I have no
long-term doubts. The doctors have assured me there's no
reason why either the procedure or the device that's being implanted
should in any way inhibit my capacity to function as the Vice
Q And how about the
health of your heart, continuing?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I am, as
everybody has known for a long time, been living with coronary artery
disease for nearly a quarter of a century now. That's
nothing new, and my capacity to function in this job, if the doctors
ever conclude I can't, obviously I'd be the first to step forward and
say so. That's not in my interest or anybody else's interest
to have me continue in the job if I were not capable of preforming
it. And so I'll follow my doctor's advice in that
regard. But they've assured me there's no reason why this
procedure or the device, itself, should in anyway inhibit my ability to
continue to preform as Vice President.
Q Did you discuss it
with the President? And did you decide to come out yourself
and explain it all because you think misinformation might have been
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I did explain
it all. I discussed it with the President on Tuesday this
week, that this was a likely course of action. And he encouraged me to
go forward and do the procedure. I also -- I thought it was
important to come down, because there obviously is great interest, for
understandable reasons, in the health of the Vice President. And we've
had enough experience now that sometimes misinformation does arise, and
there's intense speculation, and everybody sort of goes into a high
Q It has nothing to do
with your views on conservation? (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It has nothing
to do -- (laughter) -- well, I don't know. Somebody
suggested maybe we need to put one of those vampire savers on the
pacemaker -- (laughter) -- to make certain that we didn't use too many
watts. But it's battery operated, and as I say, I've been
told it's --
Q We thought the
vampire slayer was coming out here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm told it's
already an energy efficient device. It runs for five to eight years,
without having to replace the batteries.
Q Mr. Vice President,
how often have you been getting these tests? Was this the first test
that showed some irregular heartbeat? And how have you been
feeling over these past --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I've been
feeling fine. As I say, I'm oblivious to these incidents
when they occur, and they only last one or two seconds. It's just a
short period of time where there is a rapid heartbeat, and then it
stops. And I had one of these -- it's called a Holter
monitor that you wear, I mean, literally, they wire you up for an EKG,
an electrocardiogram, and you wear a little recording device on your
belt and wear that around for, in this case, I think I did it for 34
I had done one of those years ago -- must be
eight or 10 years ago, now. But this is the first one I had
done recently. It was routine, precautionary step that my
kind of record calls for, which is why the doctors recommended I do
it. And as I say, we did it two weeks ago and, based on
those results, think there is enough evidence there to warrant this
more intrusive study tomorrow. But assuming the study
confirms what we've seen here, then the decision will be made to go
forward with the ICD, and I expect that will be the case.
Q Mr. Vice President,
sir, have you felt any pain at all in your chest or your shoulder since
the last --
PRESIDENT: None. I exercised this morning for 30
minutes on my Schwinn Airdyne bicycle, as I do several times a
week. I've experienced no symptoms of any kind.
Q Have you talked at
all with the President about the possibility of resignation and how
that would be handled?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No.
Q Have you had this
kind of conversation with him?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, we
Q Mr. Vice President,
can you understand how, while you say these are unrelated, that
Americans may be concerned that since last fall you have had more
frequent incidents of blockage and now this irregularity, that it may
be a sign of the deepening of your coronary disease, that may be
related to stress or your age and weight, and all these things coming
together that's making this problem for you more frequent?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, no, I've
-- it's obviously a question I asked my doctors, in terms of what this
might signify going forward. But, as everybody knows, my
history of coronary artery disease goes back to 1978. My
entire career in politics, in elective office, in Congress, in the
Defense Department, eight years in the private sector and now as Vice
President has all taken place after the onset of coronary artery
It's something you live with and it's my great
good fortune that the technology has gotten so good that it's kept pace
with my disease, if you will, so we've been able to manage it through
the years. And as I say, if there were any inhibition on my
ability to function, if it were the doctors' judgment that any of these
developments constituted the kind of information that indicated I would
not be able to perform, I would be the first to step down. I
don't have any interest in continuing in the post unless I'm able to
perform adequately, and the doctors have assured me that is the case.
Q Can I just follow
up? With every medical procedure, there is always the
possibility of complication and there is always some
risk. Have your doctors explained to you what the potential
complications are and what the potential risk is? And what
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, you mean
if the device goes off, what happens?
Q During the procedure
that we'll see tomorrow.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the risks
are minimal. The actual test, itself, involves going into a
vein in the leg. This is a procedure I've had done numerous
times in the past, where you go in and down -- the catheterization
procedure actually goes into an artery in the leg. This will
be a vein in the leg. And they insert a couple of small,
fine wires up into the heart and then run some tests. And
based on that, then make the decision about going forward with the
It requires a local anesthetic and, as I say,
mild sedation. You do not go under a general
anesthetic. And, at the same time, if you then decide to
proceed here, it's just really an incision in the skin under the
shoulder here and implantation of this device that's about two inches
by two inches and about half an inch thick under the skin of your
It's a very common kind of
procedure. The risks, I think, are minimal, although I can't
say it's absolutely without risk; but to say this is done about 100,000
times a year, I'm told, around the country.
Q Is this something,
Mr. Vice President, that would be done for any person in your
situation, or are your doctors recommending this because you're Vice
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I asked
them that. I said, look, if I were a retired government
bureaucrat, and not Vice President of the United States, is this
something you'd recommend? And they said, yes, it is.
Q Mr. Vice President,
I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand exactly how you came to learn of
this latest problem. If you could just explain that a little
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, it's laid
out in some detail in this press release we're about to pass out to
everybody that's prepared by my doctors, that explains it. I
went through a routine test of wearing a Holter
monitor. That's an EKG that you wear for a period of time,
in this case about 34 hours, and then they take that, analyze the
data. And that indicated that I should go forward with this
more thorough and comprehensive test that we'll do tomorrow, where we
actually insert wires into the vein. And then assuming that
shows what we think it will show, then we'll go forward with the
implant. But again, as I say, this is all laid out in here.
Q Why did they decide
to put the harness on you? What made them think that there
might be something --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: For somebody
with my history, it's good preventive medicine.
Q But you hadn't done
it in several years. I wonder why they decided now you --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think
the docs had recommended that I do this. I postponed it for
several weeks, until I had a weekend when I was going to be home, and
it was easy to do. There is no sense of urgency about it, or
anything like that. There is nothing -- as I say, I'm
asymptomatic, I didn't even feel it when I had these episodes.
Q Has your family
expressed any concerns about your health -- your wife -- have they
expressed concerns about you continuing in your job?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, they are
obviously always interested in my health, which I appreciate very
much. But they're also very supportive, and they know that I
get first-rate medical care, I've got great doctors. And as I say,
they've learned to live with it, too. I realize, for a lot
of people, this can be somewhat stark information, perhaps, but on the
other hand, this has been a fact of life in my family for a generation
now. As I say, we've learned to live with it and cope with it and get
on with life. And that's what we're about.
Q Any constraints on
your behavior, beyond coming back to work on
Monday? Anything in terms of your diet, your exercise
regimen? Any restrictions?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I'm
following a fairly rigid diet that's maintained by the Navy stewards
out at the house. And as I've said before, my wife is in
charge of my food supply. We don't get into that in any
great detail. But -- and I exercise
regularly. We've got a lot of facilities out
there. None of that is influenced by any of
this. As I said, I exercised this morning, and followed my
Q Are you on Medicare?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: In addition to
that -- I'm not on Medicare, no. (Laughter.) It's Blue
Cross, Blue Shield. And with respect to after the implant
goes in, I'm restricted for a short period of time, in terms of
upper-body exercises, in that location where they actually put the
implant in, until that all heals up. But those are the only
Q What was the
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The President's
reaction was -- he wanted to know the specifics and the details, which
I gave him, and strongly recommended that I go forward and do the
Q A couple of
questions, Mr. Vice President. One, given this reality of
your coronary disease as it now exists, does it appear to you
unreasonable to look down the road and see yourself serving as Vice
President in a second Bush term, if that occurs? And,
secondly, given this, would you be more willing now to release both the
details of some apparent weight loss and other results of tests and
cholesterol levels and whatnot?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I, on the
latter point, with respect to my health, we have released vast
quantities of information and continue to do so. And, as I
say, tomorrow the docs will be out to brief again after we go through
all the procedures.
I'm convinced that we have, in fact, provided
an enormous amount of information to the press and to the
public. I've got to believe I'm the most prominent, probably
most thoroughly analyzed heart patient in America today.
And from the standpoint of service in a second
Bush administration -- and I do expect there will be a second term for
the President -- that's something that he hasn't asked me about and I
haven't talked to him about. I would expect he'll make that decision
before the next convention, as to whether or not he wants me to
continue. But that will be his call. And if I'm
in shape to do it, and if my health permits, then I'd be perfectly
happy to serve. But, as I say, he'll have to make that call
and it's a decision that's several years away.
Q Mr. Vice President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.
Q Just to clarify
something. When you go through these tests, tomorrow, if the
tests confirm what your doctors previously suspect already, will the
implantation be done tomorrow, or is that a later date?
PRESIDENT: Yes. No, it will be done -- my
expectation is, we'll do the test tomorrow. It will probably
affirm what we already think we know. And that will lead,
then -- we'll immediately, at the same time, go right on into the
implant, tomorrow. They're saying I'll be home tomorrow
There is a possibility, once you get in and do
the test, that you conclude that these are false readings, or that this
isn't exactly the right treatment, given that situation. But
we won't know that for sure until we test. But I think the
odds are fairly small that we would go do the test and not do the
implant. Q When this
recorder that picked up the rapid heartbeat, was there any connection
to the incidents? Were you doing -- was it during exercise,
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, what you
do, when you do one of these Holter monitors, you get a minute by
minute log, really, that you keep during the course of the
day. When you're exercising, you note when you start
exercise, when you quit exercising. If you're swimming, or
riding a bicycle or working at your desk, climbing stairs, all of that
gets recorded minute by minute. And then when they sit down
and analyze the tracings that you collect, they do it against that log
Q Was there any common
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No,
none. So in other words, it's not related to physical
activity, doesn't appear to be, and just occurs
occasionally. I think four times over the course of 34
hours. That's in the press release. They say it lasts for one or two
seconds at a time. So there's no outward manifestation of
it. I'm totally unaware of it when it happens.
Q Mr. Vice President,
you said this was not connected to the stent procedure. Have
your doctors indicated how that's holding up, and whether in a few
months you might have to have that replaced or repaired at all?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The general
assessment is, the stent procedure has held up very well. At
the time that we went in and re-did it the second time, earlier this
year, the expectation was there was about a 40 percent probability that
we might have to go back in and do that again. We're now past the time
when that's much of a factor.
There's always the possibility you're going to
have to go do it again, but the likelihood has dropped significantly,
once you get beyond about the four month point. That would
be a good question to ask Dr. Reiner tomorrow, who will give the brief
on that. But as I say, this is unrelated to that procedure.
Thank you all very much.
THE PRESS: Good luck.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.