Hunter shot by Cheney has heart attack
Updated: 2006-02-15 08:51
The 78-year-old lawyer wounded by Vice President Dick Cheney in a hunting
accident suffered a mild heart attack Tuesday after a shotgun pellet in his
chest traveled to his heart, hospital officials said.
Harry Whittington was immediately moved back to the intensive care unit and
will be watched for a week to make sure more of the metal pellets do not reach
other vital organs. He was reported in stable condition.
Whittington suffered a "silent heart attack" ¡ª obstructed blood flow, but
without the classic heart-attack symptoms of pain and pressure, according to
doctors at Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial.
The main entrance
to Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial hospital in Corpus
Chirsti, Texas, is shown Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006, where Austin attorney
Harry Whittington is recovering from being accidently shot by Vice
President Dick Cheney while on a South Texas hunting trip on Saturday.
The doctors said they decided to treat the situation conservatively and leave
the pellet alone rather than operate to remove it. They said they are highly
optimistic Whittington will recover and live a healthy life with the pellet in
Asked whether the pellet could move farther into his heart and become fatal,
hospital officials said that was a hypothetical question they could not answer.
Hospital officials said they were not concerned about the six to 200 other
pieces of birdshot that might still be lodged in Whittington's body. Cheney was
using 7 1/2 shot from a 28-gauge shotgun. Shotgun pellets are typically made of
steel or lead; the pellets in 7 1/2 shot are just under a tenth of an inch in
Cheney watched the news conference where doctors described Whittington's
complications. Then the vice president called him, wished him well and asked if
there was anything that he needed.
"The vice president said that he stood ready to assist. Mr. Whittington's
spirits were good, but obviously his situation deserves the careful monitoring
that his doctors are providing," the vice president's office said in a
Cheney, an experienced hunter, has not spoken publicly about the accident,
which took place Saturday night while the vice president was aiming for a quail.
Critics of the Bush administration called for more answers from the Cheney
Whittington has said through hospital officials that he does not want to
comment on the shooting. A young man at Whittington's Austin home who identified
himself as his grandson said Tuesday he did not have time to talk to a reporter
and closed the door.
The furor over the accident and the White House delay in making it public are
"part of the secretive nature of this administration," said Senate Democratic
Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "I think it's time the American people heard from
the vice president."
Before hospital officials announced details of Whittington's condition, the
hunting accident had produced a raft of Cheney jokes on late-night television.
"I think Cheney is starting to lose it," Jay Leno said. "After he shot the
guy he screamed, `Anyone else want to call domestic wiretapping illegal?!'"
On Tuesday morning, the White House spokesman briefly joined in the
merriment, joking that the orange school colors of the visiting University of
Texas championship football team should not be mistaken for hunters' safety
"The orange that they're wearing is not because they're concerned that the
vice president may be there," press secretary Scott McClellan said. "That's why
I'm wearing it."
Hospital officials said they knew that Whittington had some birdshot near his
heart and that there was a chance it could move closer since scar tissue had not
had time to harden and hold the pellet in place.
After Whittington developed an irregular heartbeat, doctors performed a
cardiac catheterization, in which a thin, flexible tube is inserted into the
heart, to diagnose his condition, said Peter Banko, the administrator at the
The shot was either touching or embedded in the heart muscle near the top
chambers, called the atria, officials said. Two things resulted:
_It caused inflammation that pushed on the heart in a way to temporarily
block blood flow, what the doctors called a "silent heart attack." This is not a
traditional heart attack where an artery is blocked. They said Whittington's
arteries, in fact, were healthy.
_It irritated the atria, caused an irregular heartbeat known as atrial
fibrillation, which is not immediately life-threatening. But it must be treated
because it can spur blood clots to form. Most cases can be corrected with
White House physicians helped advise on the course of treatment, hospital
Texas officials said the shooting was an accident and no charges were brought
against the vice president.
A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department report issued Monday said Whittington
was retrieving a downed bird and stepped out of the hunting line he was sharing
with Cheney. "Another covey was flushed and Cheney swung on a bird and fired,
striking Whittington in the face, neck and chest at approximately 30 yards," the