The Magazine

Heavy Heart

The life and cardiac times of Dick Cheney.

Jan 27, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 19 • By TEVI TROY
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This book intertwines the fascinating ups and downs (mostly ups) of Cheney’s political career with his heart incidents and his cardiologist’s recollections of Cheney’s condition and the development of cardiac medicine at the time. This is an important point, as 20th-century medical advances and the attendant increases in life expectancy meant that people were less likely to die of infections and more likely to die of cancer or heart disease. Consequently, doctors and scientists were putting more and more effort into cardiac treatment and technologies, and Cheney was a direct beneficiary of these advances.

One such technological marvel was the ICD, or implantable cardioverter defibrillator. In Cheney’s case, medical-device maker Medtronic had to create a special modification to his ICD to disable the device’s wireless-programming capabilities. This modification came at the insistence of Dr. Reiner. He was concerned about the possibility of outside interference, and he wanted to protect not just the vice president but also the patient he had been tending to for so long. Eleven years later, the fictional vice president on the television show Homeland would be assassinated by militant jihadists using just such a technique. Reiner also notes that a real-life computer hacker has demonstrated that such an attack could successfully sabotage an implanted ICD.

In writing a book like this, with his vulnerabilities and unhealthy habits acknowledged quite frankly, Dick Cheney reveals a new public side. Perhaps this Cheney 2.0 can help counter the unfair-but-prevalent Darth Vader image he has among ideological critics. At a time when partisanship rides high, it would be interesting to see Dick Cheney and Michelle Obama team up to lend their voices and reputations to an event that supports healthy eating and living. That may not happen, but Heart will remind readers of Dick Cheney’s humanity and his long service to the nation. 

Tevi Troy, a former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services and senior White House aide, is the author of What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House.