Vice President Dick Cheney is now back on the job after a Monday surgical procedure performed to reopen a blocked artery. The White House has repeatedly said Cheney's heart troubles will not affect his performance on the job.
Experts said with battle lines drawn over tax cuts and Social Security reform on Capitol Hill, President George Bush can ill afford to lose his political right hand.
Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said, "It's the case that Dick Cheney is so important to this administration that without him, without his experience and savvy and knowledge working the Hill, there's a huge question mark. Who's going to fill that vacuum?"
However, the vice president's cardiologist, Jonathan Reiner, told reporters that even if the vice president sticks to his no-beef diet and rigorous workout regimen, there is a 40% chance of future blockage in his artery.
The artery, which had been opened after Cheney suffered his fourth heart attack in late November, had partly reclosed, Reiner said, adding that there was no evidence that the vice president had suffered another heart attack.
Reiner said there is a very high likelihood that Cheney is healthy enough to finish his term. But there are no guarantees. "I wish I could predict the future," he said.
In the angioplasty procedure performed Monday, doctors inserted a flexible tube carrying a collapsed balloon into Cheney's narrowed artery. Once the balloon was in place, it was inflated, reopening the artery.
After his heart attack in November, doctors implanted a wire scaffolding-like device called a stent to push away the blockage and prop open the artery walls. Reiner said that following such stent procedures, there always is a chance of renarrowing--and this is apparently what happened to Cheney.
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