Cheney had been on the cardiac transplant list for more than 20 months before he received a heart from an unidentified donor.
"It was really quite a stroke of luck," a colleague commented. "Dick had been out hunting something. He was really frustrated about the two-year wait for his transplant. But then he stumbled on a teenager in the brush who had been mysteriously shot by an errant round. Cheney tried over and over again to extract the buckshot from the boy's chest with a large knife, but the kid knew he was dying. He quickly filled out a donor card and told Dick that he wanted him to have his heart. And here we are."
Surgeons said that Cheney, known as "Angler" to his friends, should be able to resume his normal schedule soon. The announcement filled those close to the family with an ironic mixture of relief and dread.
"I'm glad he's won another game of chess with the Reaper," one friend said, "but if he's resuming his normal schedule, we'll soon be receiving invitations to 'tie one on,' pick up hitchhikers and go hunting; or what Dick likes to call Tuesdays."
Cheney has a colorful history of health problems. Like many Americans of his era, Cheney was a longtime smoker before quitting in 1978, after his first heart attack. Six years later in 1984, he underwent open-heart surgery to bypass blockages in four coronary arteries.
He suffered his fourth heart attack two weeks after the 2000 election. Upon receiving news of the Supreme Court's ruling in Gore v. Bush, Cheney allegedly quipped, "It f***ing worked?" and then complained of acute pain in his chest and shoulders.
In addition to chronic heart disease, Cheney has endured problems with his leg arteries, indicating the presence of atherosclerosis. He also has gout. Having subsisted on a diet of lamb placentas, charcoal and children's tears, Cheney's diet is a contributing factor to his gout, nutritionists say.
In July 2007, doctors implanted a new cardioverter defibrillator to monitor Cheney's heart and shock it back into a normal rhythm should abnormal beating occur. The battery for the original device, installed in 2001, had finally eroded. Millions of Americans sued those doctors for violating the "do no harm" clause of the Hippocratic Oath.
One year later, despite his new hardware, Mr. Cheney arrived via wheelchair to President Obama's inaugural ceremonies, demonstrating that he was, quite literally, hell on wheels. It was later revealed that the former iron fist of the Bush administration had sprained one of his last remaining organic muscles attempting to lift a Ryder moving box.
"In fairness," said family spokeswoman Gretchen Rethmull, "all those phone records, torture memos, ignored warnings of bin Laden's terrorist attacks and fabricated WMD intelligence reports just have to weigh tons. I don't think I could've picked them up either."
Dr. Lou Teufel, the vice president's personal physician, called Cheney's medical history highly unique: "Richard Cheney, unlike the majority of heart attack candidates, has a rare condition we have not seen before."
With a typical myocardial infarction, the blood flow to the heart is interrupted, causing some heart cells to die. This is most commonly caused by an occlusion (blockage) of a coronary artery following the rupture of a vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque, which is an unstable collection of fatty acids and white blood cells in the wall of an artery.
"What we observed with the vice president," continued Teufel, "was not the usual occlusion. It was, well, difficult to describe...as though the left and right coronary arteries were fighting one another for decades, with growing animosity. You see, the left coronaries, which were the larger of the two parties in the chamber, were trying to do their jobs. They kept pushing important and critical materials through the system, but for some reason, no matter what the left did, the right blocked all passage. Everything the left tried to get through to the rest of the body, the right shut down. There's no rhyme or reason to it. If arteries were people, I'd say they were being irrationally obstinate. The right side just decided to stop anything the left did, regardless of how it impacted the welfare of the broader system. Then, ultimately, the left just caved in."
Teufel added: "We'll continue to monitor his new heart, and we are hopeful that it will not be rejected. But if this behavior continues, there's really nothing the body can accomplish. If that comes to pass, it will eventually be rendered a grim monument to a pointless struggle that benefited no one."
(c) 2012. See disclaimers.