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Dick Cheney: Sometimes Doctors Lie

This week former U.S Vice President Dick Cheney and his doctor came out with a new book in which they describe his five heart attacks and his heart transplant at age 71. They should tell you how the American public was kept from knowing just how sick he was.

During the primaries before the 2000 presidential elections, Cheney suffered a heart attack. The doctors at George Washington Hospital announced to the world that Dick Cheney was hospitalized just as a precaution and had not suffered a heart attack. The next day the news media was told that the vice president had a "mild heart attack". Then they were told that he had had a stent put into one of the arteries leading to his heart.

There is no such thing as a mild heart attack. Any heart attack can kill you.

The summer of 2000, after Mr. Bush selected Mr. Cheney to be his vice presidential candidate but before the election, two of Mr. Cheney's doctors issued separate letters that made it appear that Mr. Cheney had no heart problems at all. This was delusional. Cheney had suffered a heart attack in 1978 at age 37. Then he suffered three more heart attacks in 1984, 1988, and 2000. He had bypass grafting on all four of the blood vessels leading to his heart in 1988, and the placing of stents in his heart arteries in November 2000. Some of this was his reward for smoking three packs of cigarettes per day for nearly 20 years.

Severe Heart Damage
Soon after Cheney was nominated for vice president, Larry Altman of the New York Times asked Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Cheney's doctors for Cheney’s ejection fraction, a measure of heart damage. Dr. Altman and the New York Times were denied that information. This was downright dishonest.

When a person has a heart attack, the blood supply to a part of the heart is blocked and the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery dies and can never again squeeze with as much force as it could before it was damaged. So the heart weakens and doctors can measure how much of the heart is damaged by the ejection fraction, that measures how much blood the heart can pump with each beat.

Subsequently, the New York Times was told that Mr. Cheney's ejection fraction was 40 percent, indicating that he had substantial damage to his heart before he was elected vice president. He already had so much damage that his heart was barely strong enough to pump enough blood for him to walk briskly. His heart muscle damage was so extensive that he had to have a heart transplant after he left the vice presidency.

Narrowed Arteries Do Not Cause Heart Attacks
During the press conference prior to the 2000 elections, Cheney’s doctors were downright deceptive. They stated that Mr. Cheney's artery had "narrowed", when indeed, it was nearly completely blocked, so much so that they had to insert a tube with a balloon, widen the artery by blowing up the balloon, and then inserting a stent and leaving it there to keep the artery open. They did not report his blood pressure and they did not tell the press what medications he was taking.

Heart attacks are not caused by narrowed arteries. They are caused by a plaque suddenly breaking off from an artery leading to the heart, and then either:

* the plaque travels down an ever-narrowing artery to completely obstruct the flow of blood to the heart, or
* a clot forms over the area where the plaque has broken off to block blood flow completely.

The press conference was a marketing and public relations job for the hospital. Instead of telling the public what really was happening with Mr. Cheney, they told us how wonderful it was that Mr. Cheney went to the hospital immediately when he had chest pains.

Cheney’s doctors had plenty of precedent in lying about their politician-patients:

* On July 1 1893 Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th U.S. President, boarded a friend’s yacht and sailed into Long Island Sound with a team of doctors. There he had a huge cancerous tumor removed from his mouth and most of his upper jaw. Nobody told the American public until 24 years later when one of the doctors wrote about the surgery.

* In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson had a stroke and couldn't even communicate reliably with other people. He was so incapacitated that his wife and aides took over for him. The public was not informed until he was on his deathbed nearly two years later. At that time, there was no way to remove a disabled president from office, so Congress passed the 25th amendment to deal with the problem in the future.

* In 1944, President Roosevelt was a certain candidate for a stroke because he was in kidney failure and had a frighteningly high systolic blood pressure, greater than 200. Nobody told the American public until after he died from a stroke later that year.

* In 1967, Lyndon Johnson had secret skin cancer surgery because he thought people would think he had serious cancer on top of his serious heart disease. The truth about these minor surgeries was not made public until 1977.

* In 1992, Paul Tsongas tried to get his party’s nomination for President, but came in third to Bill Clinton. His doctors said that he was cancer-free, even though he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was considered “the most popular political figure in Massachusetts”. His cancer returned and he died in 1998 at age 56.

October 27th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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