Governor has procedure to open heart artery

Posted: Friday, April 11, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Gov. Frank Murkowski underwent a procedure to open what doctors discovered was a nearly blocked heart artery, his cardiologist said Thursday.

Murkowski, 70, was flown from Juneau to Anchorage where doctors at Providence Alaska Medical Center performed the procedure Wednesday night to restore normal blood flow to the governor's heart.

A catheter was inserted into the governor's groin and guided to his heart where dye showed a branch of the left coronary artery was between 95 percent and 98 percent blocked.

We indeed did find a very narrow spot,'' said Dr. George Rhyneer, who performs 70 to 80 angioplasty operations a year at Providence.

Murkowski had no complications during the procedure and was in good condition Thursday. He was expected to be released Friday morning, Rhyneer said.

Governor Murkowski looks and feels quite well,'' Rhyneer said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. He described the governor's general health as excellent.''

Murkowski's wife, Nancy, said her husband told her he wanted to go home because the hospital bed was uncomfortable.

He is fine,'' said an upbeat Nancy Murkowski. It's no big thing.''

She said when she left him following the procedure Wednesday night he was eating a turkey sandwich.

The governor complained Tuesday of being lightheaded during activity, according to the doctor.

Murkowski, who has been on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, initially blamed his symptoms on being dehydrated, probably because he'd been doing a lot of air travel for several days.

When his symptoms persisted into Wednesday, he went to his doctor in Juneau, who wanted him sent to Providence's heart center because he believed his symptoms could indicate a serious problem, Rhyneer said.

The procedure began by inserting a catheter to inject dye for an angiogram. Once the narrowed artery showed up on the X-ray, the catheter and a guide wire was then used to position a sausage-shaped balloon at the problem spot. The balloon was inflated to compress plaque there against the sides of the artery.

That balloon was withdrawn and another balloon catheter inserted, this one equipped with a metal mesh stent to keep the artery open.

The cardiologist said in 80 percent of cases, the fix is permanent. Occasionally, the plaque breaks through the stent wall and the procedure must be repeated.

Since early March, Murkowski has been on the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet made popular by Dr. Robert Atkins. He said last week he'd lost 14 pounds. The diet restricts carbohydrates but allows high-cholesterol, fatty foods.

Rhyneer said the diet probably had nothing to do with the governor's need for angioplasty.

Murkowski has no history of heart disease, but has been on cholesterol-lowering drugs for about a year, his wife said.

He likely will have to take medications to prevent a recurrence, Rhyneer said. He will also be advised to restrict his physical activity for about a month.

As for restrictions to his work schedule, Rhyneer said that was up to the governor.

Spokesman Dennis Fradley said Murkowski had to postpone a meeting on allowing Russian factory ships to process pink salmon in Southeast Alaska. Other than that, Fradley said, he didn't foresee much disruption in the governor's schedule.

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