Famous People Who Had Heart Bypass Surgery: Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton coronary heart bypass

He’d been complaining of chest discomfort over several days, and on Feb. 11, 2010, Former President Bill Clinton underwent a successful heart procedure at the Columbia campus of the New York Presbyterian Hospital.

After putting Mr. Clinton through a battery of tests — including an angiogram, an electrocardiogram and blood tests — doctors found no evidence of heart attack or damage to the heart but noticed that one of the four bypass grafts he had received in 2004 was completely blocked. The surgeons then inserted two stents into his native coronary artery to increase blood flow to the heart.

“President Clinton is in good spirits and will continue to focus on the work of his foundation and Haiti’s relief and long-term recovery efforts,” said his counselor, Douglas J. Band, in a statement released by the former president’s office.

A few days earlier, Mr. Clinton had just returned from his second trip to Haiti after a devastating earthquake claimed more than 200,000 lives in January 2010. Serving as the United Nations special envoy to Haiti, the former Democratic president had been helping coordinate relief and recovery efforts for that Caribbean island.

Mr. Clinton, then 63, had a history of heart trouble. In 2004, he had had a quadruple coronary artery bypass surgery, also done at the New York Presbyterian Hospital’s Columbia campus. At that time, doctors took blood vessels from elsewhere in Mr. Clinton’s body and grafted them onto his heart to circumvent four blocked heart arteries. Six months later, he developed rare complications in his lungs — to remove scar tissue and fluid that had built up — that required another operation.

Mr. Clinton has since recovered.

The blockage of grafted heart vessels is not unusual in bypass patients, cardiac experts say. An obstruction occurs as soon as five years or as late as 10 years following the initial surgery. This depends on whether the grafts are veins or arteries — with veins being smaller and less flexible than arteries.

Dr. Clyde Yancy, then the president of the American Heart Association told TIME magazine: “It’s important to remember that blocked blood vessels are not an event but a disease. We know blockages have their own natural history, and this just highlights the need to always be at the ready.” Dr. Yancy was not involved in Clinton’s care but was speaking in general about what to expect after bypass surgery.

Since his bypass surgery, the former president had maintained a rigorous schedule — accompanying his wife on the campaign trail during her own bid for President in 2008, giving speeches and working with his global charitable foundation.

But his cardiologist, Dr. Allan Schwartz, clarified that the blockage wasn’t caused by that. “This was not a result of either his lifestyle or his diet, which have been excellent,” said Schwartz. “His cholesterol numbers and other risk factors that we follow have all been excellent.”

Dr. Yancy explains that even patients who do everything right to maintain a healthy heart — reducing stress, exercising and eating a healthy diet — can end up with new vessels blocked again.

Heart disease is a progressive condition that is not cured by surgery, the surgeon said. “This is a chronic condition,” said Dr. Schwartz. “We don’t have a cure.” But to decrease the risk of future heart events it’s crucial that bypass patients to control risk factors — maintain healthy weight, lower cholesterol and blood pressure and not smoke.