OCTOBER 3, 1996
It's bed rest and held breaths for Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who is to spend at least another month in a hospital bed in preparation for surgery. One of his consulting doctors, Dr. Michael De Bakey, updates Charlayne Hunter-Gault on his condition.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In a six-minute radio address taped at the Kremlin hospital where Boris Yeltsin is awaiting heart bypass surgery, the ailing president said today he was still a working president and there was no need to switch the portraits at the Kremlin yet. The Russian people haven't seen much of Yeltsin since he was sworn in as the first democratically elected president of Russia in August. Amid the rampant speculation about their leader's visibly weak health, the Kremlin first played down the seriousness of Yeltsin's medical condition. That all changed in late September, when his doctors' revealed that the 65-year-old leader has suffered a third heart attack just before the presidential election in July and needed a heart bypass operation. What was not clear was when Yeltsin would be healthy enough to undergo the surgery.
RENAT AKCHURIN, Yeltsin's Surgeon: About 98 percent of success if you are dealing with uncomplicated generally healthy patient. If you have some problems with other systems and organs, the percentage of success might decrease.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: To help determine when Yeltsin would be ready for by-pass surgery, the team of doctors turned to pioneering heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey. Last week, DeBakey traveled to Russia to examine Yeltsin and meet with his team specialists. After examining the Russian president, DeBakey told Russian journalists that Yeltsin should not be considered a risky candidate for surgery, but he said Yeltsin would need to remain hospitalized for six more weeks before he could undergo the bypass.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Joining us now from New York is Dr. Michael DeBakey, head of the DeBakey Heart Center at Baylor Methodist Hospital in Houston. Dr. DeBakey, thank you for joining us. Tell us briefly what is the state of Boris Yeltsin's health.
DR. MICHAEL DE BAKEY, Baylor Methodist Hospital: Well, in general, his general health is reasonably good. It's simply that he has a very sick heart. Now, there are a few problems with his general health that took place relatively recently. One is rather severe anemia, probably from blood loss, at least the best I could make out of it of the data, it looked to me like it was blood loss, probably from the gastrointestinal track.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Does that have anything to do with his heart?
DR. DE BAKEY: No.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Or is that a separate problem?
DR. DE BAKEY: That's a separate problem.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mm-hmm.
DR. DE BAKEY: And also there is some evidence of some hypothyroidism, very mild, however, and easily correctable.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, the doctor just on the tape said that there's a 98 percent success rate for this kind of operation--we're going to talk about that in a minute--if the surgery is uncomplicated by other things. But if there are other issues present, it gets--the percentage gets reduced, how reduced is Yeltsin's success potential now?
DR. DE BAKEY: Well, if the operation had to be done now, uh, there's no question that the success rate wouldn't be as high as 98 percent, probably closer to 90 percent. But I think that with a little more time and the correction of some of these other problems that can, I think, be easily corrected, and given a little more time during which I think the heart will improve, and that's based on the evidence that within the last month it has improved, then I think the risk can, can be very close to the 2 percent risk rate that has previously been stated.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is that why you recommended--
DR. DE BAKEY: Yes.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: --six weeks before he could undergo the bypass?
DR. DE BAKEY: Yes. That's exactly why I recommended it. This would provide us with a little window of, of time during which he could be put into a little better condition for the operation, and thus reduce the risk, and increase the chances of success.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, he said today--we just heard that on the tape too--he was a working president. How much work is he able to do right now, and is that a good thing, or a bad thing?
DR. DE BAKEY: No. I think it's a good thing psychologically. And the kind of work that he's going to do, um, is really reasonably sedentary. There will be people bringing him material to review and discuss, uh, decisions that he can make, and, uh, I, I told him frankly that I'd like for him to stay in the hospital, rather than go to the Kremlin, which is what he wanted to do. I strongly suggested he stay where he is in the hospital and that he could, he could devote several hours of work a day.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And you saw him doing this?
DR. DE BAKEY: Yes, yes. And there's no reason why he can't do that.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Tell us briefly about this bypass surgery. What kind is he going to have and why?
DR. DE BAKEY: Well, the reason for the bypass surgery is the obstruction to the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. And the type of obstruction that he has is, I would say, a fairly common form of obstruction for which coronary bypass surgery is applied. He has blockages in the right coronary artery, and in three branches of the left, so that he's probably going to need three or four bypasses.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And how risky is that for him?
DR. DE BAKEY: Well, I think--I think with the correction of these problems that I've already indicated and with a little time, I think the risk is going to be reasonably satisfactory and very acceptable.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: There were also reports that he'd had a stroke and that a drinking problem had caused some of these complications.
DR. DE BAKEY: Well, I--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is any of that true?
DR. DE BAKEY: I know I'd heard those reports, and I must tell you that before seeing him, I, I thought I was going to see a very sick man. The truth of the matter is that when I saw him, he obviously was not a sick man, he looked reasonably good. He was alert, had a good attitude, even joked a little bit, uh, was a little bit restless by, as he said, being cooped up like he was.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But what about the pictures that we saw on television of him looking, appearing to be barely able to stand up?
DR. DE BAKEY: Yes. I saw those pictures myself. That's what I'm saying. That's why I'm saying I was surprised when I walked in to see this man who certainly didn't look like a sick man at all.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mm-hmm.
DR. DE BAKEY: I don't know what happened at that time, to be perfectly honest with you. So it's hard for me to explain that picture in contrast to the picture that I saw. And I did a full, thorough physical examination on him, and I can tell you that the examination, the physical examination really, uh, provided normal findings.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Why—
DR. DE BAKEY: He never had a stroke.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mm-hmm.
DR. DE BAKEY: That, that I can be sure of, and he had no liver, uh, problems because his liver function studies are perfectly normal. His kidney function studies were perfectly normal--pulmonary functions studies were perfectly normal. And the only thing I found really was the fact that he had a sick heart and a little lower than normal thyroid function, and that's about all.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Why exactly were you called in? I mean, what's your role going to be?
DR. DE BAKEY: Well, the medical team that, that's taking care of him, and I'd like just to comment briefly and say that I was very impressed with this medical team, with the resources they have, the facilities they're using, really are very modern, and it's a very able group of cardiologists too.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Even though they haven't done that many bypasses of this type?
DR. DE BAKEY: Well, I'm talking about the cardiologists now. Of course, cardiologists are not surgeons. Now, the surgeon who is scheduled to do the operation I know very well because he trained with me for two years about twelve years ago, and I've seen him operate. I've seen the institution in which he operates, and I can tell you that he, he does very, very good work.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And will you be working with him? Will you return for the surgery?
DR. DE BAKEY: I will be there for the surgery. I will not--I don't plan to participate in the operation, itself, because he has a good team, and I don't want to interfere with that team. You know, you have to have good teamwork in an operation of this time, but I'll be there, yes.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And briefly, how soon do you think after the surgery will the president be able to resume his normal duties, just very briefly?
DR. DE BAKEY: Yes. Well, he asked me that, and I told him between six weeks and two months he could do most anything he wanted to do.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: He asked you that? Is he a good patient?
DR. DE BAKEY: Yes. I must tell you that I was very impressed with his attitude too. In fact, he said to me, said, I'm ready for the operation now, but I'll, I'll do what you tell me to do--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right.
DR. DE BAKEY: --but let's get it done.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Dr. DeBakey, thank you so much for joining us.
DR. DE BAKEY: A pleasure.