Yes, Bill Clinton has had
a heart attack heart problems in the past. And yes, Clinton loved his cheeseburgers. But the two stents that he received today might have more to do with heredity than habits.
Since his quadruple bypass surgery in 2004, reports were that Bill was a changed man. In the 500-page political Us Weekly that is Game Change, authors John Heilemann and Mark Halperin note that when Clinton campaigned for his wife in South Carolina, he skipped the deep-fried, fat-laden soul food in favor of more heart-healthy fare. But apparently, that wasn't enough.
It's entirely possible that Clinton fell off the wagon, and Lord knows that his stressful schedule doesn't lend itself to healthy habits. But the scary thing about heart disease is that while there is a lot you can do to help tip the scales in your favor, there are some things over which you have no control—like a genetic predisposition toward arterial blockage.
One of my previous bosses, the fantastic Peter Moore at Men's Health, underwent a similar procedure several years ago. He returned from vacation with chest pain, which turned out to be almost a full blockage of his left anterior descending artery. This being Men's Health, pretty much all of the staffers (except, perhaps, for me) spent as much time in the gym or on the basketball court as they did in front of the computer and snacked on almonds and carrot sticks during late nights at the office. Moore was trim, healthy, and educated about heart disease, and he was still centimeters away from a heart attack.
Moore wrote about his stent in pretty graphic detail:
Minutes later I was in the catheterization lab, flat on my back, wearing only a clammy antiseptic towel.Scary stuff, but nothing requiring open heart surgery or hours under anesthesia. (The rest of the article is a great read, despite the incredibly ill-formatted online copy). That's the good news: stents sound scary, but the real threat is not discovering the blockage in time to get the heart-clearing salvation they provide. The procedure itself is simple, and Clinton reportedly has recovered and is in good spirits. The better news is that, when feeling chest pains, he was smart and humble enough to get to a doctor ASAP (something else he has in common with Moore). The bad news? Sometimes your heart has a mind of its own.
Robert Oriel, M.D., and his nurses maintained lively banter while they punctured my right femoral artery and threaded a tube up into my aortic valve and over to the trouble spot. They shot my heart with dye, and Dr. Oriel invited me to look at the gripping reality show on a TV monitor. Survivor, indeed.
I could see my heart—a ghostly sack etched with dark lines—pulsating in black and white. And there it was, the pinch point of my life. God knows how enough blood was flowing to keep me alive. Perhaps exercise had encouraged other blood vessels to compensate for the blockage—a DIY bypass, as it were. Or maybe it was the clot-busting baby aspirin I'd begun taking based on advice from an article in this magazine. But nobody knows for sure ... I felt nothing as they pushed aside the blockage with an inflatable balloon (I hope it said "Get well soon" on it), then slid a stent in place through the same catheter.