09/08/2004 at 08:00 AM EDT
Bill Clinton is reportedly resting comfortably in intensive care, talking with family members and taking liquids and eating soft foods a day after undergoing quadruple heart bypass surgery at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
News reports say he could go home to Chappaqua, N.Y., as early as Friday.
"He is awake and alert," the hospital said in a statement. Late Monday night, a breathing tube was removed, allowing the former president to speak and breathe on his own, The New York Times reports.
The operation, which took place Monday morning and lasted about four hours, reportedly came just in time. Doctors said that "something was going to happen," such as a heart attack, in the next couple of weeks had Clinton not undergone the quadruple bypass operation. The blockage in several arteries exceeded 90 percent, they said.
Clinton's heart problem was not as sudden as had been portrayed. He had suffered shortness of breath and tightness in his chest for several months, blaming them on an inconsistent exercise routine and acid reflux. Clinton, 58, also has high blood pressure and might not have been adequately treated for high cholesterol.
A member of Clinton's surgery team said everything is going "very well," though the former chief executive's return to full health is expected to take several weeks. As such, he is not expected to be campaigning for John Kerry.