On Saturday, after 20 months on a donor waiting list, the blackened lump of coal that's been unsteadily powering former Vice President Dick Cheney's body since he suffered his first heart attack at the frighteningly young age of 37 was exchanged for a new one from an anonymous donor. According to a statement from the former vice president's office, the 71-year-old Cheney is recovering after a successful heart transplant in the intensive care unit of Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va., just outside Washington D.C. The statement added, "Although the former vice president and his family do not know the identity of the donor, they will be forever grateful for this lifesaving gift."
Cheney has had a long history of health problems, dating back to his first heart attack at 37 all the way through his fifth in 2010. In 1988 he underwent a quadruple bypass, falling one coronary artery shy of ice cream baron Ben Cohen's dairy-induced quintuple, and has had several more surgeries since then. After his most recent heart attack in 2010, Cheney had a battery-powered heart pump called a Left Ventricular Assist Device implanted into his body to keep his heart going, though he admitted that the apparatus, which must be carried around in a fanny pack-like bag around the waist, was cumbersome, limited his ability to do whatever it is that Dick Cheney does for physical recreation (I'm guessing Alice and Wonderland-style croquet, only with people for mallets, blood diamonds for balls, and golden arches for wickets), and inspired far too many cyborg jokes.
According to the AP, while 70 percent of heart transplant recipients can live at least five years after surgery, the rate decreases for patients over 65-years-old. The United Network for Organ Sharing reports that more than 2,300 heart transplants were performed last year, and that 332 people of them were for people over age 65. Last year, 330 people died while waiting for a transplant, and though the wait is short (measured in months) relative to certain organ transplants, heart ailments often present imminent fatality risks. There are more than 3,100 Americans currently on the national waiting list.