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Bernie Sanders Has Heart Procedure, Cancels Events Until Further Notice

Oct 2, 2019
Originally published on October 3, 2019 12:54 am

Updated at 12:15 p.m. ET

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is canceling presidential campaign events "until further" notice following a heart procedure, campaign senior adviser Jeff Weaver said Wednesday morning.

Weaver said in a brief written statement that Sanders "experienced some chest discomfort" during a Tuesday evening campaign event.

"Following medical evaluation and testing he was found to have a blockage in one artery and two stents were successfully inserted," Weaver said in the statement. "Sen. Sanders is conversing and in good spirits. He will be resting up over the next few days."

The campaign has not provided further information at this time.

The news comes as Sanders was preparing for Wednesday campaign events in Nevada, including a "Medicare for All" town hall in Las Vegas. It also comes less than two weeks before the next Democratic primary debate, on Oct. 15 in Ohio.

As of January 2016, Sanders had "no history of cardiovascular disease," according to a letter from Sanders' doctor released as part of his 2016 presidential campaign.

Health issues hurt Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, when a bout of pneumonia caused her to leave a Sept. 11 memorial service early. A video of the incident showed a weak-looking Clinton being assisted into a van. That led to a days-long discussion in the media of her health, as well as attacks from Donald Trump.

This incident could raise questions about Sanders' age. Sanders, currently 78, would be the oldest president elected in U.S. history.

He is also a top candidate in a Democratic field led by septuagenarians. Former Vice President Joe Biden is 76, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is 70. This has led to concerns from some voters about whether nominating a candidate that old is the best choice for the Democratic Party.

Many of Sanders' fellow Democratic presidential candidates, including Biden, Warren, California Sen. Kamala Harris and others tweeted messages wishing Sanders a speedy recovery.

This week, Sanders announced that his campaign received $25.3 million in the third quarter of this year — the highest total of all Democratic campaigns that have announced their totals thus far. (Warren and Biden have not reported their numbers yet.)

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is off the campaign trail. The Democratic presidential candidate had an unexpected heart procedure. This after experiencing what a senior adviser called chest discomfort at a campaign event yesterday. Now Bernie Sanders' team says he will be canceling appearances until further notice. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben is covering the 2020 campaign. She's in the studio now.

Hey there.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So how serious is this? What else do we know?

KURTZLEBEN: We don't really know a lot more. We learned of this in a brief statement from campaign senior adviser Jeff Weaver. He said, as you mentioned in the intro there, that Sanders had felt some chest discomfort last night at a campaign event. And what they also told us is that Sanders had a blockage in one artery. Two stents were inserted. His campaign has really not said a whole lot more than that except that events will be canceled until further notice but that the senator is, quote, "in good spirits." He is resting up for a few days.

Now, I did talk to Steven Nissen today. He's a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. He's not the doctor that worked on Sanders, but he just sort of told me what to expect in these cases, what the prognosis is. And pretty much what he told me is this. The way to look at it is that heart disease is, indeed, serious, but this is also a very routine procedure.

KELLY: OK.

KURTZLEBEN: Lots of people have them. It's not open-heart surgery. Stents are often put in through the wrist these days. So - yes, so it's not super invasive. And people can go back to work if they choose after this procedure in just a few days, even a couple of days.

KELLY: I'm trying to think back to what I know about Bernie Sanders' health generally and his past health history. Has he had any kind of signs of heart trouble?

KURTZLEBEN: I mean, what we do know is that as of January 2016, when he was campaigning last time, his doctor wrote a letter. The campaign put it out. And the letter said that Sanders had no history of cardiovascular disease at that time. He also had a normal EKG. So right back then, he seemed healthy heart-wise. Now, people may remember recently he canceled some other events after that last debate. That was very minor. He was recovering from a hoarse voice, his campaign said. This is very different.

KELLY: This, of course, prompts the big question of what this might mean for his campaign. Do we know?

KURTZLEBEN: I mean, of course, we don't know yet. But, yes, you can imagine this could present some big challenges they have to deal with. I mean, one big thing the - most glaring thing everyone's talking about today - is that this could serve for some voters as a reminder of Bernie Sanders' age. He is 78. The campaign is ramping up. It's only going to intensify. Campaigning is really exhausting. And so this might not rattle the diehard Sanders fans out there, but there are voters who exist - I have talked to them, my colleagues have - voters who are concerned about nominating or electing someone who is of advanced age. And so this could affect how those voters feel. And now, let's keep in mind, of course, that two of Sanders' main rivals - Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden - they're themselves in their 70s. Now, the additional...

KELLY: As is the president who they'd be running against, President Trump, so yeah.

KURTZLEBEN: Exactly, yes. And, you know, the additional challenge is that Sanders is going to want to talk about other things. He just put up some great campaign finance numbers, a new income inequality tax plan. So the next debate - October 15 - that's what we're going to be looking at to see, you know, if he can look strong, remind people of how passionate he is. That's an opportunity to put all of this behind him.

KELLY: That is NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben.

Thank you, Danielle.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.