Liz Cheney Sits Down With Dad's Cardiologist to Talk Heart Care

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," August 6, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

LIZ CHENEY, GUEST-HOST: My dad, former Vice President Dick Cheney suffered his first of five heart attacks in 1978 when he was 37-years-old. Since then, despite his coronary artery disease, he has lived an incredibly full and rewarding life.

That's in part, thanks to the care of good doctors, one of them is here with me tonight, and some incredible medical advances. Most recently, he had a left ventricular assist device implanted.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner has treated my dad for the past 12 years and he joins me now to discuss the latest developments in the treatment of coronary artery disease.

Dr. Reiner, welcome to the show.


CHENEY: Thank you for being here. I suspect that there is someone we both know watching us tonight, so don't be nervous.

Maybe you could start Dr. Reiner by talking about what you could have done for somebody, what you would do for someone 30 years ago when they came in with a heart attack?

REINER: Sure. So, your father had his first heart attack in 1978. I was a freshman in college that year. And the treatment for patients with heart attacks in 1978 had not really differed compared to when President Eisenhower had his first heart attack into 1955.

Essentially, treatment was entirely supportive. You know, I liken it at that time to sort of watching a car wreck you stand by, you know, helplessly wait for the smoke to clear and then you see what was left. And that is all that could have been done in 1978.

But very shortly after your dad had his first heart attack, we started to understand why heart attacks happen. And that they are caused by clots, clots that block the supply of blood to the heart muscle. And then very quickly there after multiple therapies were developed to open those arteries, break open the clots, either with drugs or with mechanical therapies like balloons and stents and prevent the heart attack from destroying a lot of heart muscle.

So, we changed from thinking about heart attacks as a fait accompli, you know, a done deal and started thinking about heart attacks as a very dynamic process, something that could be, you know, interrupted.

CHENEY: And really since then, my dad has been the beneficiary of many of these new treatments that have become available. His history is in many ways, you know, parallel to the history of these developments in the treatment of this disease. And most recently, the most recent treatment he's had was the implantation of this left ventricular assist device. And I think you have a model here this evening, maybe you can explain what this is and what it does?

REINER: Sure. You know, the end stage of damage to the heart is a situation that is referred to as heart failure, congestive heart failure, end stage heart disease. And the common scenario is that the heart becomes unable to pump enough blood to supply the needs of the organs and the body as a whole and that's why people with end stage heart disease die. Over the last decade, really fabulous mechanical strategies have been refined to augment what the failing heart can do and your dad did receive a ventricular assist device and I brought a model to show you.

So, essentially, what ventricular assist device is, is a pump. It is not an artificial heart. It doesn't take over the complete function of the heart. But what it does is augment or assist ventricular assist device that assist the function of a failing heart.

And your father received this device actually. This is a device called HeartMate II, it's made by company called Thoratec, company in California. And this is a pump which is inserted, I've done a little surgery on this heart myself here. It is insert into apex where the tip of a patient's heart. And then there's another cannula that is inserted into the patient's aorta. And what this pump can do is take blood from the failing heart, accelerate it with a turbine essentially that's spinning it almost 10,000 revolutions per minute, and essentially jack that up into the aorta.

So, a failing heart may only be able to deliver two liters per minute of blood to the body. A normal heart can deliver almost six liters per minute. It's about a quarter and a half, gallon and a half, excuse me. This device by itself can deliver over six liters per minute. So, this can take a person who has a failing heart, who is short of breath, perhaps, you know, walking to the bathroom, and can restore them, not just a sort of adequate functioning, but to normal functioning. People with this device can go back to work and go back to fulltime work. Can do just about anything with the --

CHENEY: Fish, hunt.

REINER: Fish, hunt. The only thing you really can't do with this device is swim.

CHENEY: Good. Good. Well, I think it really is lifesaving technology, we've talked about this before. And even my family where we've been very exposed obviously to treatments in coronary artery disease were to large extent unaware of this device. So, I hope people watching tonight will have the chance to ask their own doctors about this technology.

I also wanted to talk to you about the work that you are doing to make sure that there are external defibrillators available publicly. Can you talk for a minute about why that is so important to people and lifesaving as well?

REINER: Sure. So, I take care of people who survive heart attacks, at least survive heart attacks to get to the hospital or survive out of hospital sudden cardiac arrest. People who are lucky enough to get to the hospital for treatment because in 2010, if you walk into a hospital or you are brought into a hospital alive, almost you know, with about 98 percent certainty, you are going to leave the hospital alive but the trick is to get people who have sudden cardiac arrest outside the hospital to the hospital alive. And what I've noticed with dismay, during my career, is that for the killer -- for the greatest killer of Americans, almost a quarter million people died of sudden cardiac arrest every year in the United States, that's about one every two minutes in the United States.

For the number one killer of Americans, the most important ingredient in survival is luck. Not drugs or treatment, but luck. And you have to be lucky that you have a cardiac arrest near two things, near a defibrillator, and near someone who is willing to use a defibrillator.

Since, about 1990, the technology has really been refined. And you see them all over airports and train stations. You know, these usually in a glass case, it says AED. And these devices have the ability to restore a normal heart rhythm to someone who has a chaotic heart rhythm and who's dying, they are designed to be used by folks who have no training -- really by novices -- but they are not widely disseminated in the United States.

And part of the problem is that the laws in every state are different. So, here in New York City, and New York State, the law requires users to be trained. That's ridiculous. These devices designed to be used by folks who had no training which is why signs in New York State outside defibrillator say, to be used only by trained responders.

In Virginia, on the other hand, whether is no training requirement, there is no such prohibition against the use by untrained responders. And because the laws are so different, corporations don't know what to do with it. And this is why you can bay AED from Wal-Mart but if you have sudden cardiac arrest in Wal-Mart, you are going to wait until the paramedics come.

CHENEY: So, what do we need to do to make sure that people across the country are able to have access to these?

REINER: We need a law. And this is something in our group at GW, we've been working on now and had some preliminary conversations with members of Congress. We need a congressional pre-emption law. As you well know, the Constitution gives Congress the authority to preempt state laws. Every state has a law, but every law is different. So, a congressional law would basically homogenize the laws governing AEDs. This would allow hotels and big box stores to understand what the laws are and the requirements are and deal -- move this technology out into the community.

CHENEY: Well, thank you very much for being here tonight. One of the things that you said to me that's so important for people who have had heart attacks, who have had heart disease is their attitude going forward and understanding that, really, there are no limitations on them.

And you have been tremendously important and helpful in my own family in providing that kind of treatment to my dad. So I want to thank you. And thank you very much for being with us here.

REINER: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

CHENEY: Thank you.

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