Former VP Cheney Undergoes Heart Transplant

Dick Cheney, 71, was in a Virginia hospital following a heart transplant Saturday. Host Laura Sullivan talks with NPR's Rob Stein about the former vice president's health.

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LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has undergone a heart transplant at a hospital outside of Washington, D.C. His office issued a statement a little over an hour ago that says the transplant took place earlier today.

With me now to talk about this is NPR science correspondent Rob Stein. Rob, what else do we know about the surgery?

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: We don't know a lot. We have a very short statement from his office saying that he had undergone the transplant today at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia; that he's in intensive care; and that's really, all we know at this point. And none of that is unusual. That's what you would expect for somebody having undergone a heart transplant. And it's unclear - usually, somebody in this kind of situation would be in intensive care for at least a while, until they start to recover.

SULLIVAN: Do we know what his condition is at all?

STEIN: We don't. I'm sure - usually, patients like this are in critical condition. They're in intensive care. I mean, a heart transplant is, obviously, a fairly significant thing to go through, and it'll be some time before he starts his recovery process.

SULLIVAN: Hmm. Now, former Vice President Cheney is 71 - 71 years old, right? That's fairly old for this kind of major surgery. What are his prospects?

STEIN: Yeah. That is old. Most hospitals that do heart transplants usually have a cutoff of about 65 years old so - but there are some centers that do older patients; 70, 71. So he's really pushing the limit here, and it's going to be a tough road. Anybody undergoing a heart transplant, it's a very difficult recovery time. And the older you are, the more difficult it is.

SULLIVAN: Do we know, at all, how long he may have to recover from something like this, and will he stay in the hospital for all of that time?

STEIN: Yeah. It really varies from patient to patient and he will - no. He will not be in the hospital the whole time. But there's no question he'll be in the hospital for a while until the doctors are sure that he's not - his body's not rejecting the heart, and he's on his way to a recovery.

SULLIVAN: There will, of course, be questions about whether Cheney got to get some sort of special treatment, or got to go to the top of the list. Is there any reason to think that that happened in this case?

STEIN: No, not really; not at this point, anyway. The statement that his office put out says he'd been on the list for 20 months - which is, you know, a fairly significant length of time. And every - but the waiting time varies around the country and usually, the matching process is based on somebody's size, their blood type, and factors like that. So - and, you know, 20 months seems, you know, a fairly significant time to wait for a heart.

SULLIVAN: Sort of the average time?

STEIN: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: Well, Rob Stein is an NPR science and health correspondent who's going to continue to cover this for NPR. Thanks so much for coming, Rob.

SULLIVAN: Oh, sure. Thanks for having me.

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