Dick Cheney’s Affairs of the Heart

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Dick CheneyPhoto: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Dick Cheney, five-time heart-attack survivor and owner of a ventricular assist device, might be sick of people making jokes about how his heartlessness is literal and metaphorical. He's opened up his deepest medical secrets, as one does (if one is a much-disliked former GOP politician) to The Wall Street Journal. Cheney stresses that he survived because of the remarkable advances in medical technology that took place over his lifetime, and the access he had to it — which, as it happens, was a minor talking point on the left during the health-care debate.


The most tangible evidence is on Mr. Cheney's person, what he calls "the gear." He is wearing a custom wool vest that holds a small computer near his abdomen and on either side two battery packs, about the size of video tapes. "They're good for about 10 hours," he says. "Put these in this morning." The gear, connected to his chest via an insulated cable, powers something known as a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, a turbine implanted near his heart's major chamber that propels blood into his aorta and circulates it throughout his body.

"It's not an artificial heart," Mr. Cheney explains. "You still got to have a heart and it's still got to be working[.]" ... The rotor in Mr. Cheney's LVAD spins about 8,000 to 10,000 times a minute and muffles his natural heartbeat.

That image may not shut down the Darth Vader jokes entirely. Nor do other bits of the interview, in which he seems remarkably detached from the many procedures he underwent, do favors to his reputation on the metaphorical heartlessness front.

Many patients speak of open-heart surgery as a life-changing, revelatory event—the sternum sawed in half, the rib cage pulled apart, life dependent on a heart-lung machine (c. 1960s) to stand in for those organs. Did it change Mr. Cheney's outlook, his perspective? "I'd already done bypass," he says unsentimentally, with a wave of his hand.

Cheney isn't shy in talking about how that first heart attack at age 37 might just have given him a PR bump that got him into office: "[A]s I looked back on it later, I became convinced it kind of helped. It significantly advanced my name identification. I got a lot of coverage. I even got sympathy donations," Cheney said. "It worked out." Which makes it impossible not to wonder for juuuuust a split second about his remark that "they always seemed to happen in campaign years."


The Story of Dick Cheney's Heart [WSJ]