Bill Clinton's Surgery Successful

Doctors remove scar tissue, fluid buildup that resulted from his heart bypass last fall

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By
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 10, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Former President Bill Clinton underwent successful surgery Thursday to correct minor complications that arose after his quadruple heart bypass operation last September.

Clinton was "awake and resting comfortably" after four hours of surgery, said Herbert Pardes, president of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, were with him, the Associated Press reported.

"He's feeling well and looking forward to getting on with things," said Dr. Joshua Sonett, who described peeling away the built-up material through an opening between Clinton's ribs, according to Bloomberg news.

Clinton's lung capacity had been reduced 25 percent by the build-up of fluid and scar tissue that collapsed the lower lobe of the left lung, Sonett added.

Clinton is expected to be walking Friday and will need four to six weeks to recover, his doctors said.

The procedure, called decortication, was done to correct a rare, though not especially risky, complication of the heart bypass surgery, doctors said.

The American Heart Association said about 5 percent to 10 percent of heart surgery patients have some kind of fluid buildup in the chest after surgery, but less than 1 percent of those patients require additional surgery to correct it.

"Most of the time, the body reabsorbs the fluid, but occasionally the fluid just sits there and can become like gelatin," said Dr. Virginia Litle, a thoracic surgeon at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "It can compress the lung, so the lung isn't completely filling the chest cavity like it's supposed to when you breathe. If you're not using your lungs to their maximum potential, you can get shortness of breath."

The shortness of breath results because the fluid prevents the lungs from expanding fully, explained Dr. Eugene Grossi, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the New York Veterans Administration Hospital, and a professor of surgery at New York University School of Medicine. "There is fluid between the chest wall and the lung so not only can the lung not expand, but it is trapped," he said.

If the presence of fluid is chronic, scar tissue will also develop. In Clinton's case, the scar tissue also caused the compression and collapse of his lung, doctors said.

Since undergoing his quadruple bypass surgery at the same hospital in September, Clinton has complained of shortness of breath and some discomfort on his left side, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Doctors at the hospital took X-rays recently and recommended this procedure, according to the Times.

Still, the 58-year-old former president has managed to walk four miles a day and tour areas of Asia devastated by the December tsunami. On Tuesday he was at the White House, and on Wednesday, he played golf in a Florida charity event for tsunami victims.

More information

Visit the American Heart Association for more on heart bypass surgery.

SOURCES: Eugene Grossi, M.D., chief, cardiothoracic surgery, New York Veterans Administration Hospital, director, cardiovascular research lab, and professor, surgery, New York University School of Medicine, New York City; Virginia Litle, M.D., thoracic surgeon, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York City; Bloomberg news; Associated Press; The New York Times; American Heart Association statement

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