WASHINGTON (AP) Vice President Dick Cheney underwent surgery yesterday to reopen a partially blocked artery after checking into a hospital with chest pains. It was the same artery that had been cleared last November after his fourth heart attack.

Paul Wong
Yukari Kubo, Naoko Kotake and Emi Kajimura, all 19, sleep at New York”s LaGuardia Airport yesterday after their flight to Louisville, Ky., was canceled.<br><br>AP PHOTO

There was no evidence that Cheney had suffered another heart attack, said his cardiologist, Dr. Jonathan Reiner. The doctor also said he did not believe Cheney had suffered more heart damage, though the vice president was spending the night at the hospital for observation.

Cheney, 60, had quickly resumed a full schedule after a heart attack and follow up surgery last November.

“There is a very high likelihood he can finish out his term in his fully vigorous capacity,” the doctor said after yesterday”s procedure an angioplasty. But he added, “He has chronic heart and artery disease.”

Reiner said there was a 40 percent risk the artery would narrow again. He said Cheney could be released from the hospital as early as today and be back to work this week.

President Bush, playing down his top adviser”s latest health scare, called the surgery “a precautionary measure.” Bush spoke by telephone to Cheney, who reported from the hospital that he was feeling fine and looking forward to returning to work, the White House said.

Cheney is an unusually active and influential vice president. He headed Bush”s transition team, played a major role in Cabinet and top personnel selections and has helped Bush forge foreign policy as well as a national energy policy. White House officials say Cheney is the adviser Bush most relies upon to make sure his agenda is carried out.

His hospitalization came less than a week after the president”s first address to Congress, just as Bush is trying to generate attention and support for his tax-cut plan.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said there was no word on when Cheney will return to work. “That”ll be a judgment the vice president will make (Tuesday) with his doctors,” he said.

Cheney checked himself into George Washington University Hospital, about six blocks west of the White House, after feeling chest pain on Saturday and Sunday and then again, twice, yesterday, Reiner said.

He said the episodes were “much milder and very brief” when compared with the chest pains that Cheney suffered in November. “The symptoms were subtle” this time, Reiner said.

Cheney attended a birthday party for Federal reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan on Sunday night, capping a weekend in which he and his wife moved into the vice president”s residence on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. They also sold their townhouse in McLean, Va.

In Monday”s angioplasty, doctors inserted a flexible tube into the narrowed artery carrying a collapsed balloon. Once the balloon was in place, it was inflated, reopening the artery.

During the procedure last November, one of Cheney”s heart arteries was 90 percent blocked, so 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. The doctor said scar tissue within the stent caused the renarrowing.

Aides said Cheney, who was working at the White House yesterday, had told Bush in the morning that he was experiencing discomfort in his chest and planned to be examined by a doctor.

Cheney has had four heart attacks, the first when he was 37. In 1988, he had quadruple bypass surgery to clear clogged arteries.

Reiner said Cheney probably could fully return to his work “later in the week.”

Reiner said the vice president had been “exceedingly diligent” in following both dietary and exercise recommendations, including essentially eliminating red meat from his diet.

“He has very nicely adhered to what we wanted him to do,” Reiner said.

After Cheney arrived at the hospital yesterday, he underwent a cardiac catheterization to determine what was causing the chest pains.

In that procedure, doctors insert a flexible tube into a leg vessel, and it is run from there up to the target artery supplying blood to the heart. At that point, dye is injected. The dye shows up on an X-ray or fluoroscope, enabling doctors to see the flow of blood through the artery.

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