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Hunter Shot by Cheney Has Heart Attack

Associated Press | February 14, 2006

Texas Sheriff Barred From Interviewing Cheney About Shooting Incident

More Questions Raised About Delay in Reporting Cheney Misfire

The 78-year-old lawyer who was shot by Vice President Dick Cheney in a hunting accident has some birdshot lodged in his heart and he had a "minor heart attack," a hospital official said Tuesday.

Peter Banko, the hospital administrator at Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial, said Harry Whittington had the heart attack early Tuesday while being evaluated.

He said there was an irregularity in the heartbeat caused by a birdshot pellet, and doctors performed a cardiac catheterization. Whittington expressed a desire to leave the hospital, but Banko said he would probably stay for another week.

"However some of the bird shot appears to have moved and lodged into part of his heart in what we would say is a minor heart attack," Banko said.

Whittington, who had been moved from intensive care into a "step-down unit" Monday, was moved back to the intensive care unit for further treatment. Doctors had decided to leave several birdshot pellets lodged in his skin rather than try to remove them.

White House physicians who attended to Whittington at the scene after Cheney accidentally shot him were involved in the treatment, the hospital officials said.

Whittington, 78, a prominent Republican attorney from Austin, was accidentally sprayed with shotgun pellets when Cheney was aiming for a quail Saturday.

A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department report said Whittington was retrieving a downed bird and stepped out of the hunting line he was sharing with Cheney. "Another covey was flushed and Cheney swung on a bird and fired, striking Whittington in the face, neck and chest at approximately 30 yards," the report said.

The wildlife department issued a report Monday that found the main factor contributing to the accident was a "hunter's judgment factor." No other secondary factors were found to have played a role.

Whittington has heart attack

Newsday | February 15, 2006

The 78-year-old lawyer shot by Vice President Dick Cheney in a hunting accident is back in intensive care after monitors showed that he suffered a mild heart attack, his doctors said yesterday.

Harry Whittington underwent a cardiac catheterization to check the health of his arteries, doctors at the Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial in Texas said. While there were no signs of cardiovascular disease, his doctors suspected Saturday evening that one of the many tiny lead pellets that sprayed his face and neck during the accident that afternoon may have been carried through the blood vessels to reach his heart.

It's a more serious turn for the accident that produced Cheney jokes and was briefly a source of merriment at the White House.

The imaging showed that a pellethad migrated to Whittington's heart. Dr. David Blanchard, director of emergency services at the Texas hospital, and one of Whittington's doctors, issued a statement yesterday saying that he was having irregular heart rhythms triggered by the birdshot. A hospital spokesman said that he was in stable condition. "He is being closely monitored," said Peter Banko, a hospital administrator.

Irregular heartbeats are a common human condition. Called atrial fibrillation, this abnormal heartbeat can cause problems, especially in older people. "If the beating is rapid in an older person, you worry that it can cause problems in the heart's ability to deliver blood," said Dr. L. Michael Graver, part of the cardiothoracic surgery network at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

That's the immediate risk. Long term, doctors say that the irregular pattern of contractions can trigger blood clots in the heart that can then travel to other organs. The risk for stroke is a concern, Graver said.

The standard treatment in such a case, he added, is to put the patient on a blood thinner. That reduces the stroke risk. It takes a few days to regulate the medication, which explains why the lawyer's hospital stay has been extended, Graver suspects.

Training in New York City, Graver saw many gun wounds, including some from birdshot. The lead pellets fan out and lodge just under the skin. He said it is virtually impossible to remove all pellets that lodge in a birdshot accident. Because it is mostly skin deep, the pellets are left alone. There are between six and 200 pieces of birdshot lodged in Whittington's body. His doctors said they are not intending to remove the pellets.

Banko said doctors will monitor the pellets so that more do not travel to other organs.

Yesterday, Cheney called Whittington. "The vice president said that he stood ready to assist," Cheney's staff said. "Mr. Whittington's spirits were good, but obviously his situation deserves the careful monitoring that his doctors are providing."

A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department report issued Monday said Whittington had stepping out of the hunting line. "Another covey was flushed and Cheney swung on a bird and fired, striking Whittington in the face, neck and chest at approximately 30 yards," the report said.

The birdshot was either touching or embedded in the heart muscle near the top chambers, they said. His doctors called it a silent heart attack even though he did not have classic heart attack symptoms. The ensuing inflammation around the heart's surface probably triggered the irregular heartbeat, experts said.

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