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Dick Cheney receives heart transplant

Updated 10:30 p.m. ET

(CBS News) Former Vice President Dick Cheney received a heart transplant on Saturday, his office announced.

A statement from the former vice president's office said the 71-year-old is now recovering in the intensive care unit of Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va., outside Washington.

The statement said Cheney had been on the transplant list for 20 months and did not know the identity of the donor.

"Although the former vice president and his family do not know the identity of the donor, they will be forever grateful for this lifesaving gift," the statement read.

Cheney, who served as President George W. Bush's vice president from 2001 to 2009, has a long history of heart problems. He suffered his first heart attack at age 37 and his fifth in 2010. In 1988, he underwent quadruple bypass surgery and has had several other heart surgeries since then, including multiple angioplasties and the implantation of a pacemaker.

List: Cheney's heart problems since 1978

In 2010, he had a battery-powered heart pump known as a Left Ventricular Assist Device implanted to keep his heart working - a device that is often used for short periods by patients awaiting a transplant.

In an interview early last year, Cheney called the heart pump a "wondrous device," but said that it made it "awkward to walk around." The device, which takes over the job of the heart's main pumping chamber, is powered by batteries worn in a fanny pack.

Cheney also said in the interview that "he would have to make have to make a decision at some point" about whether to have a heart transplant.

"What's happened over time is the technology's gotten better and better and we've gotten more and more experience with people living with this technology," he added.

According to the Associated Press, more than 70 percent of heart transplant recipients live at least five years, but the rate is lower for people over 65.

The AP also reports that according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, more than 2,300 heart transplants were performed last year, and that 332 people of them were for people over age 65. Last year, 330 people died while waiting for a transplant, and there are more than 3,100 Americans currently are on the national waiting list. 

Several of the Republican president candidates reacted to the news via statements on Saturday night.

"Karen and I would like to extend our thoughts and prayers to the Vice President for a speedy recovery," Rick Santorum said in a written statement. "I have known the Vice President for many years and I know Vice President Cheney to be a fighter. We wish him well in his time of recuperation and we will pray for the entire Cheney family."

"Vice President Cheney is in our thoughts and prayers tonight, as he recovers from surgery," Newt Gingrich said, also in a written statement. "Callista and I hope that his recovery is peaceful, and we wish him and his family all of the best. He has been a colleague and friend for many years, and we are glad that the surgery went well."

"Ann and I send our thoughts and prayers to Vice President Cheney for a fast and full recovery," Mitt Romney said on Twitter.

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