Gupta: Heart patients should learn from Cheney

Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks about his candid -- and at times contentious -- 60 Minutes interview with Dick Cheney about living with heart disease

Dr. Sanjay Gupta says he spent two days conducting intense, personal -- and, at times, contentious -- interviews with former Vice President Dick Cheney for 60 Minutes. The toughest topic: whether Cheney's decades of heart disease affected his ability to do his job.

Cheney has undergone just about every procedure available to heart patients: stent and defibrillator placements, catheterizations and angioplasties, quadruple bypass, and even a heart pump. Finally, at the age of 71, he had a heart transplant. Cheney wrote about his 35 years as a heart patient in a new book, called "Heart: An American Medical Odyssey."

In a conversation with 60 Minutes Overtime (see the video player above), Gupta discusses the more contentious points in the Cheney interview, and he shares the live-saving lesson in Cheney's survival story: Never ignore your symptoms, no matter how small. That was the key to Cheney's survival, says Gupta, starting with his first heart attack in 1978.

At just 37, Cheney woke up in the middle of the night with some tingling in two of his fingers, a symptom that "most 37-year-olds would not go to the doctor over," Gupta said. Cheney rushed to the hospital, where he passed out. He was having a heart attack, and those tingling fingers had been the only symptom.

It was a lesson Cheney never forgot. "I think I was able to survive five heart attacks because I never postponed going to the hospital when something didn't feel right," Cheney told Gupta.

It's also a lesson that other Americans living with heart disease -- and there are more than 80 million of them -- shouldn't ignore, says Gupta. "You can't wait to get things checked out because it can be too late."

"You can turn this into a chronic disease with some really, really remarkable medical technology," Gupta said. "You've got to go to the hospital and get [your symptoms] checked out, but if you do, there's a menu of options available to people now that can keep them alive."