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"It unfortunately tells us he's got bad luck in the gene pool. His genetics have given him an aggressive" form of heart disease, said Dr. William O'Neill, an interventional cardiologist and executive dean for clinical affairs at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
Even mild heart attacks cause cumulative damage. While his doctors haven't revealed the extent of Cheney's damage, O'Neill said it's likely he "doesn't have much reserve."
The average person who survives a first heart attack may survive a second, sometimes a third, but very few survive more, said Dr. Edward I. Morris, a cardiologist at Washington Hospital Center, across town from Cheney's hospital.
Heart disease is progressive. Cheney's bypass was in 1988, and they typically last about a decade before the grafts begin to narrow. Arteries cleared by angioplasty re-clog, too.
And that first survived heart attack is a crucial teachable moment, when suddenly doctors' warnings -- about diet and exercise, and to quit smoking, and to treat high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol -- take on new meaning. The right care can indeed prevent a second heart attack and provide years of quality life, Yancy said.
Attention to Cheney offers a different teachable moment: How to avoid even that first heart attack. Yancy points people to the heart association's "seven simple steps" Internet program, at http://www.heart.org/mylifecheck. Get three easy measurements from your doctor -- blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol level -- and answer four lifestyle questions, and the program will tell where you need to improve.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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