Discuss as:

Dick Cheney recovering at hospital after heart transplant

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is recovering Saturday following a heart transplant from an anonymous donor. NBC's Jamie Gangel reports.

Updated at 8:23 p.m. ET: Former Vice President Dick Cheney was recovering Saturday at a Virginia hospital after receiving a heart transplant, his office said.

Cheney was in the Intensive Care Unit of Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, his office said.

Cheney, 71, who served as vice president in the George W. Bush administration, has had a long history of heart trouble and has been on the cardiac transplant list for more than 20 months.


"Although the former Vice President and his family do not know the identity of the donor, they will be forever grateful for this lifesaving gift," aide Kara Ahern said in a written statement that was authenticated by several close associates of the former vice president.

More than 3,100 Americans currently are on the national waiting list for a heart transplant. Just over 2,300 heart transplants were performed last year, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. And 330 people died while waiting.

According to UNOS, 332 people over age 65 received a heart transplant last year. The majority of transplants occur in 50- to 64-year-olds.

The odds of survival are good. More than 70 percent of heart transplant recipients live at least five years, although survival is a bit lower for people over age 65.

NBC's Robert Bazell explains the process of receiving a heart transplant amid news that Former Vice President Dick Cheney has received a new heart.

Cheney suffered a heart attack in 2010, his fifth since the age of 37. That year, he had surgery to have a small pump installed to help his heart keep working. It was one of the few steps left, short of a transplant, to stay alive in the face of what he acknowledged was "increasing congestive heart failure."

The pump, called a left ventricular assist device, is mainly used for short periods to buy time for potential transplant candidates awaiting a donor organ. The fact that doctors resorted to it illustrated the perilous condition he was in.

Hb / AP

The former vice president and conservative leader's life in photos — from Wyoming to Washington.

"I've gotten used to the various contraptions that are always with me, and I'm working and traveling, I've hunted a time or two, and I have some fishing planned," Cheney wrote in his memoir released last year.

In July 2007, he had had a minor surgical procedure to replace a device that monitored his heartbeat. Nearly 20 years earlier, in 1988, Cheney had had quadruple bypass surgery, and had two artery-clearing angioplasties and the operation to implant the device.

In 2005, Cheney had six hours of surgery on his legs to repair a kind of aneurysm, and in March 2007, doctors discovered deep venous thrombosis in his left lower leg. An ultrasound a month later showed the clot was getting smaller.

In January 2011, Cheney said he was getting by on a battery-powered heart pump, which made it "awkward to walk around." He also said he hasn't made a decision yet on a transplant, but that "the technology is getting better and better."

Cheney said then that he'd "have to make a decision at some point whether I want to go for a transplant."

Like 5 million other Americans, Cheney had congestive heart failure, meaning his heart had become too weakened to pump properly. That can happen for a variety of reasons, but Cheney's was due to cumulative damage from five heart attacks that he had suffered since age 37.

Heart failure kills 57,000 Americans a year and contributes to many more deaths.

Cheney served as Bush's vice president for eight years, from 2001 until 2009. Cheney was a lightning rod for criticism during Bush's presidency, accused by opponents of often advocating a belligerent U.S. stance in world affairs during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

NBC News' Jamie Gangel, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.