Interview: Dick Cheney on living with heart disease

As Mr. Cheney’s condition deteriorated, he and his physicians considered a heart transplant but opted for the LVAD. The surgery was a huge risk given his age, sickness and the logistical fact that his surgeons would need to “go right back in in exactly the same location” as his bypass 20 years before. “Cutting through all that scar tissue, that’s tougher in a sense than actually installing the LVAD, or so they tell me.”

Three days before the operation was scheduled, he says, “all my systems are starting to crash—kidneys, liver, everything, blood flow just wasn’t adequate to keep everything going.” He was dying. “So there was a hurried-up consultation where I remember the family standing around the bed in my room and a lot of docs and the question was, do we go in, now, on an emergency basis, and start with the LVAD? I queried everybody and said, well, let’s do it. I went in that night.” Mr. Cheney was treated at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va., among the best LVAD programs in the country.

He was in the intensive care unit for about five weeks, “most of that on the respirator, heavily sedated. Also developed pneumonia at the same time, and eventually got through that.”

He spent months in rehab. “When you get to the point where you spend that much time in an ICU, you just totally waste away,” he says. “Muscle mass is all gone—you can’t open a tube of toothpaste, can’t get in and out of the bed, need help with absolutely everything you do.”