Doctor: If you feel his wrist, Cheney might not have a pulse

By David Edwards
Thursday, July 15, 2010 12:48 EDT
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Liberals have long joked that Dick Cheney doesn’t have a heart, and the former veep’s latest medical setback might be hard for him to prove otherwise if checked for a pulse.

Cheney, who likely has end-stage heart disease, was fitted with a special pump last week to help his heart pump blood through the body. The left ventricular assist device (LVAD) is consider a last step before a full heart transplant.

“It’s reserved for people who have end-stage heart failure, and advanced and heroic therapies have been tried, and after folks have optimized evidence-based and guideline-recommended drug therapies,” said Dr. William Abraham, director of the division of cardiovascular medicine at Ohio State University. “Their heart conditions have progressed to a state where the mortality risk is very high and they turn to LVADs and transplants.”

Cheney’s doctors describe the operation as a success and say he is now recuperating.

But the device does have one almost creepy side effect. The former vice president will not have a pulse, according to Dr. Alan Stewart, director of the Aortic Surgery Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University Medical Center.

“This is a continuous ventricular assist device, meaning that blood is impelled. It is not a pulsatile device. So if someone were to feel Mr. Cheney`s wrist, Mr. Cheney will have no pulse,” Stewart told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Wednesday.

“You can have a pretty decent quality of life on a ventricular assist device. The devices are smaller now and they`re quite durable. This device could be expected to last for three to five years and then could even be changed out for another device,” Stewart explained.

Austin Science Policy Examiner Steven Andrew notes, “The devices are implanted below the heart and powered by an external battery pack. Blood is taken from a hole created in the left ventricle, routed to a pump, and then injected directly in to the aorta, the primary artery emerging from the heart. Some of the newer versions reduce or eliminate the patient’s radial pulse, the beat that is felt on the wrist or neck.”

ABC News adds,

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, 69, who underwent surgery last week to implant a pump to assist his heart, may be only one step away from a heart transplant, according to cardiac experts. They say he could find himself on a wait list for “months or years.”

Cardiologists say the former vice president has a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), which is often used as a so-called “destination” or permanent device, but in his case is likely a “bridge” that will keep him alive until he can receive a transplant.

Many patients with such pumps are described as not having a pulse, because the continuous flow of the LVAD — much like water circulating in a fish tank rather than pumping like a heart — can make the pulse indiscernible.

However, Susan Donaldson James reports for ABC News, “heart experts say that only patients who depend on LVADs for 100 percent of their circulation are essentially without a heartbeat. Cheney’s device is likely doing 30 to 60 percent of the heart’s work.”

A Democratic Underground post jokes that without a pulse, Cheney is now “one step closer to Darth Cheney.”

Cheney has joked in the past that being considered a “Sith Lord” has its perks.

Hot Air’s Allahpundit blogged, “He’s been keeping a conspicuously lower profile lately than he did last year, when it felt like he was giving interviews every other week laying out The One for his terrorism policies. Whether that’s due purely to his health or partly to political concerns — not wanting to overshadow Liz, not wanting his poor favorable rating (which has been improving but remains negative) to hurt the GOP — only he knows, but congestive heart failure is bound to slow down even Darth Vader. Best wishes to him.”

This video is from MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast July 14, 2010.

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David Edwards
David Edwards
David Edwards has served as an editor at Raw Story since 2006. His work can also be found at Crooks & Liars, and he's also been published at The BRAD BLOG. He came to Raw Story after working as a network manager for the state of North Carolina and as as engineer developing enterprise resource planning software. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidEdwards.
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