NOVEMBER 5, 1996
As the world waited apprehensively, Russian president Boris Yeltsin underwent quintuple bypass surgery to fix his ailing heart Tuesday. All reports say he came through the surgery well. Lawrence McDonnell of ITN reports on the Russian President and the NewsHour's Elizabeth Farnsworth talks to a Duke University doctor about Yeltsin's condition.
LAWRENCE MC DONNELL: After months of speculation about when and if the operation would go ahead, this morning while Moscow slept, the Russian president was delivered from sanatorium to surgery. Ahead he faced seven hours in theater that would decide not just his survival but the fate of the nation. Chief heart surgeon Rinyat Akchurin looked tense even before the operation began. It was hardly surprising. In a clinic on the outskirts of Moscow, Mr. Yeltsin's heart was switched off for some two hours while doctors worked to improve the flow of blood to his vital organs. This afternoon, the surgeons emerged to announce the operation a success. Everything had gone according to plan. There were no complications, commented Dr. Akchurin, and all the signs are that the heart will now be able to function properly. And the chief consultant on the team was confident enough to expect a full recovery.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
Oct. 3, 1996
Boris Yeltsin's consulting physician, Dr. Michael De Bakey, discusses the Russian President's condition.
Sept. 23, 1996
Dr. Robert Jones, cardiac expert from Duke University, discusses the Boris Yeltsin's preparation for heart bypass surgery.
July 4, 1996
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott discusses Boris Yeltsin's election win.
Browse the Online NewsHour's Russian coverage.
DR. MICHAEL DEBAKEY, U.S. Heart Specialist: I would predict that President Yeltsin will be able to return to his office and carry out his duties in a perfectly normal fashion.
LAWRENCE MC DONNELL: Just before he went into surgery, Boris Yeltsin signed a decree handing over power temporarily to his prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, including control over the country's armed forces and its nuclear arsenal. As he sped into Moscow this morning, Viktor Chernomyrdin was acting head of state, the most powerful figure in the country. He'll remain acting president until Mr. Yeltsin is well enough to return to office.
JIM LEHRER: Elizabeth Farnsworth has more.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For more about the surgery, we are joined by Dr. Robert Jones, a cardiac surgeon and the chief medical officer at Duke University Medical Center. Thanks for being with us, Dr. Jones. I believe--I believe you have a diagram. Using the diagram, would you explain the heart surgery that Boris Yeltsin just went through.
DR. ROBERT JONES, Duke University: (Chapel Hill, NC) Yes. The view on the diagram would be the same view as the cardiac surgeon had before the chest was closed about 12 hours ago. I think the major difference is that Mr. Yeltsin appeared to have had more grafts than are shown, but the tubes that are seen in this illustration are similar to those that Mr. Yeltsin had are pieces of vein from the skin of the leg that is sewn in one end to the source of good, oxygenated blood, the aorta, and then below where the blockages are into the branches of the coronary tree.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The surgery apparently took seven hours. Some reports are saying it was a quintuple bypass. Does that sound about right to you, seven hours to do a quintuple bypass?
DR. JONES: I think the times that were quoted were the entire times in the operating room. I think the actual operating time from the time the incision was first made until it was closed was a bit less. Usually to do the five grafts would take close to four hours.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Dr. Debakey made it sound like he'll bounce back pretty quickly. How long do you think his recuperation will take?
DR. JONES: I think Dr. Debakey's very correct. Usually you would expect a patient to spend one night in an acute care environment and in this country four or five additional nights before going home. The Europeans are a little bit slower in moving their patients along and, of course, with Mr. Yeltsin's special role in the world, it may be that they will go a good deal slower with him, but I think that he will be back to his full strength before very long and be ready to assume the leadership of the country.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let's talk about his special role in the world just for a minute. This has got to be one of the highest stress jobs in the world. Would you advise him to return to work especially slowly because it is such a difficult job?
DR. JONES: I think we have to remember that even though he is in a very powerful position, he's a human like the rest of us, and I think he would be the one to really know when he will feel like he's ready to assume a large amount of stress. Most of us don't mind stressful jobs if we feel like we're in control, but if we feel a little bit under the weather, it can be somewhat frustrating. I'm sure Mr. Yeltsin will be wise enough to know when he's ready to assume some of those stressful roles.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: When do you think he'll be able to resume the powers of government, which, as we learned, he's turned over to the prime minister temporarily?
DR. JONES: I would agree with Dr. Akchurin, that it will probably be about two days, but Dr. Akchurin said that he would fully leave that to his patient, and I think that's a wise surgeon speaking.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Dr. Jones, he'll be in a great deal of pain for a while, won't he? I mean, they just cut his whole chest open.
DR. JONES: No. Actually this operation is not that painful. It does hurt to take a deep breath or cough and he'll need some pain medicine. Usually patients are treated only with oral pain medicine after the first day, and they describe the pain more as soreness.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What complications should his staff be watching for now, say in the next 48 hours? What would you be watching for?
DR. JONES: I think most of the complications that could have occurred are really behind him. I think that there would be a few complications that might keep him in the hospital an extra day or two, but the chances of very serious, life-threatening complication really are very low at this point.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So that would have happened already you think?
DR. JONES: Yes, I think so.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Um, how permanent a fix is this? Is this likely to have to be done again, or is this a fairly permanent fix for a heart with the troubles that his had?
DR. JONES: Actually, the best statistics would suggest that Mr. Yeltsin now has a survival that is about equal to a man his age, 67, who did not know he had heart disease. Of course, a 67-year-old man can have trouble with his heart, and Mr. Yeltsin can too, but the outlook is really quite good.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you talk about him now as if his heart disease is gone, he's cured of the heart disease because of this, or that he still has a diseased heart that's been fixed? How do you--how do you see it?
DR. JONES: I like to emphasize to patients that they should consider themselves as well, but all of us who are well should modify the risk factors that we can to lower the fat in our diet, not to smoke, and to try to take good care of our health, and Mr. Yeltsin, I'm sure, will be given that advice as well.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Will he be able to work pretty much--I know you said that it's up to him, but would you imagine--knowing these kinds of cases and imagining the kind of work he has--say in a month be able to go back to his office? I mean, we need to have some sense of when he'll return to his more normal duties. It's been quite a long time.
DR. JONES: I think he would be quite capable in a month. I think whether he chooses to or not will, of course, be up to him. Most patients in situations like him return to work gradually and usually begin doing the things that they enjoy most and saving some of the more stressful decisions until sometime a bit more remote from the surgery.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But you said what really counts is the feeling that you have some control over it, as much as anything else, so it's not just the toughness of the job, it's something else?
DR. JONES: Well, surgery makes you feel very vulnerable, and, uh, the human aspect always comes out. And, uh, it may take a while for him to adapt to that, and he deserves all the time he needs to fully recover. In this country we would recommend to a president of a university or to a leading politician to stay out of the mainstream for about six weeks. Now whether Mr. Yeltsin will choose to do that or not will be up to him and really how he feels. We would suggest that he could begin making some decisions within just a few days.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Dr. Jones, thanks for being with us.
DR. JONES: Thank you, Elizabeth.