Dick Cheney transplant surgery renews age debate

A leading doctor at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles says it's unlikely former Vice President Dick Cheney got preferential treatment for his heart transplant surgery Saturday.

Cheney received the new heart Saturday at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va., the same place where he received an implanted heart pump that has kept him alive since July 2010. The 71-year-old waited 20 months for the transplant.

Dr. Jaime Moriguchi, medical director of the Mechanical Circulatory Support Program, said Monday it's "pretty much not (possible)" to get special treatment.

"All transplant programs are under very strict guidelines to choose the correct patients," he said. "You cannot buy your way on the list. Basically even though, you know, he's such a high-profile individual, if he waited 20 months, and I would suspect, he basically did not get any special preferential treatment, which is the way we like it."

Dick Cheney receives heart transplant

Patients are selected based on a guideline that they have no other problems than their heart, Moriguchi said. "We do not want any other life-threatening illnesses that would not be corrected by heart transplant," he explained. "... Because of the limited resource, we have to give it to the best candidates."

Moriguchi said Cheney's history likely makes him a good candidate for transplant - even at age 71.

List: Cheney's heart problems since 1978

"Most of his problems were related to his heart, he had had bypass surgery, angioplasties and so forth. ... We're more concerned at his age about the other core morbidities including the heart, lung, kidney and they seem to be OK. So I think he'll be a good candidate, even at (his age)."

The average transplant recipient can anticipate approximately a 13-year life span, but may live much longer if he or she takes care of the transplant heart and stays on medications, Moriguchi said.

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