Clinton didn’t have a heart attack in 2004, when he underwent a quadruple bypass operation. And he didn’t have a heart attack on Thursday. But he came close. Both times, Clinton had episodes of chest pain that indicated his heart muscle was starved for blood due to narrow arteries. Untreated, the 63-year-old was at serious risk of heart attack.
Dr. Michael Reardon, chief of cardiac surgery at Methodist Hospital, says Clinton’s surgery six years ago was never meant to be a permanent fix.
“Unfortunately, coronary artery disease is a progressive disease. And bypassing it will get more blood flow to the heart but it doesn’t cure the underlying disease. Which is why we stress to our patients that they need to make lifestyle modifications. It’s pretty clear that his disease has progressed because he developed angina or chest pain related to lack of blood flow.”
Clinton had two tiny wire stents threaded into his cardiac arteries, to prop open the narrow passages. More than 1 million Americans have this procedure each year. The technology is mind-boggling, but Reardon says the only true fix is prevention through diet and exercise.
“The biggest problem that we have is that people live a lifestyle for 50 or 60 years and then something happens where they find out they have coronary disease and then they change their lifestyle and want to be better in a year or two, and you’re trying to overcome the detrimental effects of decades.”
Still Reardon said late is better than never. Clinton has already been released and could get back to work on Haitian earthquake relief as soon as next week.