Bernie Sanders Had Heart Attack, His Doctors Say as He Leaves Hospital


Senator Bernie Sanders had a heart attack this week, his presidential campaign said on Friday as he left a Las Vegas hospital, following three days of near silence from the candidate and his advisers about his health.

Mr. Sanders, 78, had entered the hospital on Tuesday night after experiencing chest pain at a campaign event, and doctors had inserted two stents in a blocked artery, a relatively common procedure. But the campaign did not confirm that Mr. Sanders had had a heart attack until Friday, inviting questions about his condition, and his campaign’s transparency, as he remained off the campaign trail this week.

Television cameras filmed Mr. Sanders as he left the hospital Friday, waving to onlookers and pumping a fist, then driving off in a sport utility vehicle. He will remain in Las Vegas on Friday night and return to his home in Burlington, Vt., on Saturday, campaign officials said.

“After two and a half days in the hospital, I feel great, and after taking a short time off, I look forward to getting back to work,” Mr. Sanders said in a statement.

Mr. Sanders began experiencing chest discomfort on Tuesday evening during a grass-roots fund-raiser he was hosting at a Las Vegas restaurant. As he began taking questions from the audience, he asked a campaign aide for a chair. He did not stay much longer at the event, and became visibly uncomfortable in a car afterward, according to two campaign officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic.

A heart attack means that a portion of the heart muscle died, starved of blood when a vessel was blocked, Dr. Gilbert Tang, a heart surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said.

“The first question is, how serious was the heart attack? What muscle was damaged and how will that affect the heart’s function?” Dr. Tang said. “If it was a significant portion of the heart, will that affect the heart’s ability to pump?”

If only a small portion of heart muscle was damaged, he added, Mr. Sanders should make a full recovery — even at 78. These days recovery does not depend on age so much as other medical issues, like lung problems, he said.

That does not mean that Mr. Sanders can simply continue as if nothing happened, though. Doctors usually recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program, which is essentially an exercise program in which patients are closely monitored. Such a program, Dr. Tang said, “conditions the heart to work harder.”

Mr. Sanders would normally also take a cocktail of drugs to reduce his risk of another heart attack, including powerful anti-clotting medications that require close monitoring for a month, Dr. Tang said.

Other presidents and presidential candidates have had heart trouble, though not all of it was known to the public at the time. Experts believe that President Warren G. Harding died of a heart attack that his doctor did not detect. Toward the end of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third term and until his death in his fourth term, his White House doctor withheld the fact that he had serious heart failure. President Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered a heart attack near the end of his first term, and might have had a heart attack before he ran for president.

In 1999, former Senator Bill Bradley damaged his presidential campaign by not disclosing that he had had a number of episodes of atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm abnormality, before he experienced one while campaigning and had to be rushed to a hospital with reporters trailing him.

Before his heart attack pulled him from the campaign trail, Mr. Sanders was polling in the top tier of the Democratic primary race with Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren, and his staff has been trying to project optimism about his candidacy. But the episode has cast a shadow over his campaign just as he was attempting to reinvigorate it after a summer slump that saw his standing in some polls slip.

Hoping to reverse course, he had recently begun to focus more on his electability, arguing that he is the candidate best positioned to beat Mr. Trump in the general election.

The Sanders campaign announced this week that it had raised $25.3 million in the third quarter, placing him ahead of Ms. Warren, his chief ideological rival, by a hair and at the top of the field in fund-raising.

In a show of force, the campaign announced a $1.3 million ad buy in Iowa that it then postponed as it waited to assess the situation; the ad will now begin airing next Tuesday, and will run for two weeks as planned.

Campaign officials said they would determine when he would return to the trail as he recovers at his home, and it was possible that his first public appearance would be at the debate. His demeanor then will likely be watched closely by both voters and the news media.

Already, Mr. Sanders is working against a built-in bias. When asked about age, voters show a clear preference for younger presidential candidates, with an overwhelming majority saying they prefer candidates in their 40s through 60s, according to surveys. When asked about the ideal age for a president, just 3 percent said the 70s, according to polling released by Pew Research Center in May. Other polls have shown that Americans express more discomfort with a candidate in his or her 70s than one who is gay, Muslim or an independent.

Bryce Smith, 27, the Democratic Party chair in Dallas County, Iowa, said Mr. Sanders’s health scare could hurt his chances — particularly against Ms. Warren.

“I do see that as something that is going to deter people that were maybe on the fence,” he said. “If anyone was teetering between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, this probably showed them that Elizabeth Warren has the stamina and the health and is a little bit younger in age to see it through eight years.”

Jill Alper, a Democratic strategist in Michigan and a veteran of Bill Clinton’s and John Kerry’s presidential bids, said voters would be watching Mr. Sanders closely in the next debate.

“Does his energy level change? Does he campaign differently?” she said. “If he maintains a reasonable energy level, it may not change anything for him.”

On Friday evening, after Mr. Sanders was released from the hospital, he dropped off his bags at his hotel and went for a walk in a park with his wife, Jane Sanders.

The two were seen holding hands.

Lawrence K. Altman, Gina Kolata, Lisa Lerer and Jonathan Martin contributed reporting.



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