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Heart surgery called a success for Sen. Graham

Graham's deteriorating aortic valve was replaced with one from a cow.

By BILL ADAIR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 1, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bob Graham's heart surgery went smoothly Friday, his doctors said.

Graham was listed in stable condition after a surgeon replaced his deteriorating aortic valve with one from a cow.

"Senator Graham's surgery went well and was an uncomplicated procedure," said Dr. John Eisold, the attending physician of Congress who is serving as a spokesman for the doctors. "He is resting comfortably. We anticipate a full recovery."

The surgeon, Dr. Alan M. Speir of Annandale, Va., used a cow valve instead of a mechanical device so Graham will not have to take blood-thinning drugs the rest of his life. Graham's Senate spokesman, Paul Anderson, said the fact that doctors chose a cow valve "seems appropriate, since he was a dairy farmer."

The surgery at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. took about 51/2 hours. Graham, 66, is likely to remain in the cardiac intensive care unit today and then be moved into a regular hospital room tonight or Sunday.

In a statement released by Graham's office, Eisold said the senator is expected to remain in the hospital for four to five days "and then to convalesce at home for seven to 10 days. He will be able to resume light duties toward the end of the month and should be back to full strength within six weeks."

The surgery forced the Florida Democrat to delay his decision about whether to run for president until late February or early March. Graham and his advisers have said he is likely to run as long as there are no serious complications from the surgery.

Graham is expected to recuperate at his daughter's house in the Washington suburbs after he leaves the hospital. He chose to go there because his Washington townhouse has three floors and doctors have said he should avoid using stairs.

Graham and his wife, Adele Graham, have received dozens of cards, letters and flower arrangements since the senator announced a week ago that he needed the heart valve. Adele Graham said in a statement Friday that, "Bob and I want to express our appreciation to the medical team here at the National Naval Medical Center and for the incredible outpouring of support we have received, not only from Florida but from across America. We are comforted and gratified to be in so many people's thoughts and prayers."

After the surgery, Graham's staff delivered a letter from the senator to Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and Majority Leader Bill Frist that said Graham would be "necessarily absent" from Senate votes while he recovers. Under Senate rules, that means Graham will be recorded as absent but can file a statement of how he would have voted.

"Given the overall excellent state of my health, the doctors tell me that I should have renewed vigor and energy following a short hospitalization and recovery period," Graham wrote.

On Thursday, Graham taped two television interviews, one with Ed Bradley for an upcoming 60 Minutes segment on terrorism, and one with Judy Woodruff for CNN's Inside Politics. In that segment, which aired Thursday, Graham revealed a tentative slogan for his presidential campaign:

"Best able to lead. Most able to win."

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