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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 well.
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 President.
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 around?
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 hover.
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 hours.
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 --
THE VICE 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 haven't.
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 disease.
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 are they?
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 implant.
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 shoulder.
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 President?
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 bit better?
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 regular regimen.
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 limitations.
Q What was the President's reaction?
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 procedure.
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?
THE VICE 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 afternoon.
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, et cetera?
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 of activity.
Q Was there any common thread?
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.
END 9:50 A.M. EDT
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