Candidate's Heart Transplant at Issue in California Assembly Race

A candidate for the California state Assembly says vote for me, not my rival because the opponent — a heart transplant recipient — could die in office.

"Can you imagine the costs to taxpayers for a special election when poor health renders him unable to fulfill the duties of office?" former Modesto City Councilman Bill Conrad wrote in a mailing to voters. "Republicans deserve a strong candidate ...."

Conrad faces Tom Berryhill in the GOP primary for the 25th Assembly District. The primary is June 6.

The mailer says in bold red letters, "Tom Berryhill doesn't have the HEART for State Assembly," and suggests that he might not survive the two-year term if elected because he had a heart transplant five years ago.

Berryhill, the son of a former state legislator, said his health is fine. He described the mailing as one of the harshest things he's seen in 40 years of politics.

"I think the voters are going to reflect that (fact) come June 6," he said in a telephone interview. "I think they are going to send a great big, old loud message that it just doesn't work here in the Central Valley."

Conrad's flier said the average life span of a heart transplant recipient is seven years, anti-rejection drugs taken by recipients weaken their immune systems and severe stress shortens their life expectancy.

Berryhill, 52, said his heart problems stemmed from exposure to pesticides and herbicides while working on his family's farm, resulting in a heart valve replacement when he was 21 and a heart transplant in 2001.

"What (Conrad) failed to tell you is if you live through three years without any rejection, you have a normal life span," he said.

Conrad, 48, said he raised the health question as a way to draw attention to other issues in the race.

"It's not about his heart; it's about his qualifications," he said. "Hopefully, they will look at my qualifications, too."

He also defended the fairness of the mailing.

"The bottom line is the voters will decide. At least they have a choice," Conrad said.

Down the coast in San Diego on Tuesday, another Republican with a history of heart-related health problems campaigned for a GOP House candidate.

Vice President Dick Cheney has had four heart attacks, though none since he became vice president in January 2001; quadruple bypass surgery to clear clogged arteries; two artery-clearing angioplasties; and an operation to implant a pacemaker.