VP's Shooting Victim Suffers Minor Heart Attack

The man accidentally shot by Vice President Dick Cheney during a weekend quail hunt has suffered a minor heart attack. Harry Whittington has been moved into intensive care — Madeleine Brand talks to NPR White House reporter Don Gonyea about Whittington’s condition.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, star U.S. Skier, Bodie Miller, wipes out at the Olympics, but another American rises to take the gold. But first, the man Vice President Dick Cheney shot in a hunting accident over the weekend is suffering from new medical complications. 78-year-old Harry Whittington had a minor heart attack caused by the birdshot lodged in his chest. Joining us to talk about this is NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. And Don, what do we know about Mr. Whittington's condition?

DON GONYEA reporting:

Well this story has just been developing over the past couple of hours, really. And there was initially talk that perhaps Mr. Whittington would, would be going home as early as today. But doctors discovered an irregular heartbeat. They performed a cardiac catheterization. And what they discovered was that a small foreign object, a piece of metal, it turns out in this case it was, it was one of those bb's, one of those little pellets from the birdshot that hit him when, when Vice President Cheney fired his gun, is lodged up against the heart, in the heart, is actually the term that the doctors used.

Now, they say that Mr. Whittington has a strong heart, they say that they're optimistic that he's going to be able to overcome this. But they are also using the word heart attack. They say that the damage and the inflammation caused by this pellet is a mild heart attack. Not the kind of heart attack the, the emergency physician said that, that causes you to kind of clutch your heart.

And, you know, the, the, the kind of heart attack that the layman thinks of. But damage to the heart nonetheless. So he's going to be in the hospital probably, they say, for another week as they observe this very closely. And as you said, he's back in the intensive care unit.

BRAND: And what has the vice president had to say about this latest development?

GONYEA: Well we did finally get the first official statement from the vice president, from his office on this. Again, the vice president's spokesman has been available to answer questions over the phone, but not on tape, not on camera. The White House, vice president's office says that Mr. Cheney was told when he arrived this morning that doctors had decided, based on overnight monitoring, to perform this procedure on Mr. Whittington.

At 1:30 eastern time this afternoon, the statement goes on to say, the vice president called him and spoke to him and wished him well. And asked if there was anything he needed, and said he stood ready to assist. And then this, again, very short statement ends with the vice president saying that his thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Whittington and his family. That's, that's it so far from the vice president's office.

BRAND: Hmm, well, as we know, there was quite a defensive tone from, from the White House just yesterday when reporters were, were a bit upset that the White House waited nearly 24 hours to report the incident in the first place. So I'm wondering if the, if the tone of the White House communication has changed.

GONYEA: It, it, it's interesting, the other thing that happened yesterday, obviously, we heard them around the office, we saw them on late night television, all of the jokes about this. And this morning, in an off camera briefing that he starts his day with, called The Gaggle, Scott McClellan, the press secretary, felt comfortable enough to kind of step into the joking a little bit.

The Texas Longhorns national champion football team is here at the White House today, and McClellan joked that they would be wearing orange, but because that's the school color, not because Vice President Cheney is on the premises. So a little bit of joking, but by this afternoon McClellan knew about the change in condition and said that Mr. Whittington remains in their thoughts and prayers. They want to make sure that he's okay. And that really is their main priority here. So it was very serious again by the time the afternoon briefing rolled around.

BRAND: Don Gonyea, NPR's White House correspondent. Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

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