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Local cardiac patients feel empathy for Cheney

They look at the vice president's health problems and understand what he's going through.

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001


INVERNESS -- Dick Cheney suffered another well-publicized episode of heart trouble last week. Inverness resident Alan Bailey understood what the vice president was experiencing -- medically, at least.

Bailey, a retired golf pro, isn't a fixture in the national news. But heart problems have changed his life, just as they have changed Cheney's.

Bailey and several other local cardiac patients took time last week to share thoughts on heart trouble and its effects. They had empathy for the vice president, whose travails they have followed with interest, not to mention a measure of familiarity.

Cheney has suffered four heart attacks and undergone quadruple bypass surgery. The most recent heart attack occurred in November. He was in the headlines last week when he experienced complications that required hospitalization.

Bailey, 55, suffered his first heart attack during a sales meeting (he worked for Titlist) in 1994. His heart stopped four times. He underwent angioplasty, a procedure in which a doctor threads a balloon-tip catheter into an artery to open it.

Last year, Bailey was driving to a golf course in New England when he experienced more pain. He didn't have a heart attack that time, but he did undergo angioplasty again.

Last year, he had angioplasty yet again and suffered a heart attack during the procedure.

Bailey has changed his diet and exercise habits. He enrolled at Citrus Memorial Hospital's well-regarded cardiac rehabilitation program, where the staff closely monitors patients as they work out.

"I don't think there's any doubt that stress is a factor," Bailey said. "Not that it (heart trouble) wouldn't have happened somewhere down the road. But the stress gave it an additional jump start."

Yes, stress. The big question: Should the vice president step down from his extremely difficult job?

Opinions certainly vary. But Jim Kicklighter, 57, of Inverness says Cheney can keep on keeping on.

"I don't think it's stress at all. It's the way you live," said Kicklighter, a long-distance truck driver who suffered several small heart attacks this year.

"I always ate anything I wanted to eat. Ate a lot of fried food. Did a lot of things I shouldn't have done. I smoked and drank. It definitely wasn't stress, because nothing worried me," he said.

Kicklighter underwent five-way bypass surgery, as well as an emergency catheterization and the implanting of a stent.

Cheney's trouble last week was related to his stent, which doctors placed in him after the November heart attack. The stent is a small metal object that props open blocked arteries.

Cheney's body formed scar tissue that partially blocked one end of the stent. This is called restenosis, which happens in some patients.

Kicklighter has not experienced a similar problem.

He is diabetic, so he has tried to monitor his diet for quite some time. The heart trouble has inspired him to walk daily and enroll in the cardiac rehab program at Citrus Memorial, where he begins work later this week. "I feel pretty good," he said. But "I'm still pretty sore."

New Circuit Judge Ric Howard suffered a stress-induced heart attack three years ago. He also has a stent but has not experienced restenosis.

"I've been fortunate," the judge said.

Howard said Cheney should not step down. He said it seems the vice president can handle his duties and is capable of serving.

Duty aside, would Cheney be better off stepping away? The judge said he didn't think there would be a personal benefit for Cheney.

"It's better to be doing something than just sitting home worrying about it. It's good for him to get back on his feet," Howard said.

He speaks from experience. Howard said getting up and going was a big part of his recovery. He now teaches seminars on stress for lawyers, trying to help them avoid the trap.

Glenn Harwood, 70, of Sugarmill Woods awoke about 6 a.m. Dec. 9. and told his wife he was having a heart attack. He could just tell.

Harwood took an aspirin and called 911. Doctors performed angioplasty and installed a stent. He has not suffered restenosis.

Harwood is not a smoker, keeps in good shape and exercises regularly. He said hereditary -- two brothers also have suffered heart attacks -- probably was the biggest reason he suffered a heart attack.

He walks each day and does rehabilitation exercises three days a week at Heart Associates, a cardiology practice in Crystal River.

What must life be like for the vice president?

"You never know" what will happen next, Harwood said. "If you get a pain, you wonder if it's that again. But I'm doing about the same thing I was doing before.

And Cheney? "He's probably wondering when it's going to happen again."

- Jim Ross writes about medical issues in Citrus County. Reach him at 860-7302 or by email at jross@sptimes.com

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