Bill Clinton on Mend After Heart Surgery

09/07/2004 at 08:00 AM EDT

Bill Clinton on Mend After Heart Surgery
c.haller/allactiondigital/retna
Former President Bill Clinton is expected to go home later this week after having successfully undergone quadruple bypass surgery at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital on Monday.

He is said to be resting comfortably and is expected to make a full recovery, the hospital says. But doctors said the blockage in Clinton's arteries was so severe that he was headed for a massive heart attack, New York's Daily News reports.

"In several of the vessels, the blockage was well over 90 percent," said Dr. Allan Schwartz, chief of cardiology. "There was a substantial likelihood that he would have had a substantial heart attack in the near future."

Preparations for the 4-hour open-heart procedure began at 6:45 a.m., with Clinton leaving the operating room at approximately 1 p.m.

Dr. Craig Smith, chairman of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, performed the operation, taking blood vessels from the patient's chest and left leg and attaching them to arteries feeding his heart. This created healthy routes for the bloodstream that had been dangerously blocked, said doctors.

In a Clinton family statement released Sunday, they said, "This sure isn't how we planned to spend Labor Day weekend 2004, but we're doing our best to enjoy it."

Clinton, 58, checked himself into the hospital Friday after experiencing chest pains and fatigue one day prior. He first went to Northern Westchester Hospital, where doctors examined him and later advised him to have the surgery. Once inside the Manhattan facility, he underwent three days of tests and had his blood thinned.

Thousands of get-well messages poured in to the hospital for the former chief executive, including those from onetime rival Bob Dole (who reportedly offered to give "Republican blood" – what little he said he had left) and current Vice President Dick Cheney, who has his own history of heart problems.

The 42nd president – known for his love of fast food and his heavy workload – has been traveling the country promoting his best-selling memoir My Life. He was planning to accompany his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, on a two-day trip through upstate New York. The senator and the couple's daughter, Chelsea, were with Clinton at the hospital while he underwent the operation.

Clinton had been enjoying good health lately but told CNN's Larry King in a Friday night phone call that he noticed during his jogs he "had some difficulty getting my distance up."

He does not have a history of heart trouble, though a 2001 medical report indicated he had above-normal cholesterol and borderline high blood pressure. The former president had lost significant weight in the last year, which he credited to exercise and the South Beach diet.

In the Larry King Live interview, Clinton said he's looking forward to seeing "what it's like to run five miles again."

Displaying his characteristic sense of humor, he added, "The Republicans aren't the only people who want four more years."

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