Barbara Bush in good condition

March 5, 2009 5:14:19 PM PST
Former first lady Barbara Bush was making "an excellent recovery" following 21/2-hour heart surgery to replace her aortic valve and was joking with hospital staff, her lead surgeon said Thursday. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Mrs. Bush, 83, was expected to be released from the intensive care unit at The Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center on Saturday, Dr. Gerald Lawrie told reporters.

He said Mrs. Bush awakened earlier than most elderly patients do after undergoing the "very routine procedure" and started joking with the doctors.

"She recognized all of us immediately and then she started cheering us up with some humorous comments as soon as we took that tube out," Lawrie said, noting that she gently cajoled him for having "misled" her about post-operative pain.

"She continued to do very well," he said.

Her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, said "she looks well to me, and beautiful," as he choked back tears, describing the operation as one of the most stressful days of his life.

He said Mrs. Bush discouraged any of her five children, including former President George W. Bush, from visiting her during her hospital stay, and that the intensive care unit was no place for "children, even if they are 45 to 60 years old."

Bush said he spoke to President Barack Obama and former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and his son.

Rob Saliterman, a spokesman for the younger former president Bush in Dallas, said he was "in close communication with family members in Houston, is glad Mrs. Bush is recovering quickly, and is grateful to everyone keeping her in their thoughts and prayers."

Lawrie said Mrs. Bush was to stay in the hospital another week for observation.

The surgery was scheduled last week after Mrs. Bush experienced a shortness of breath, Lawrie said. He said doctors determined the aortic valve had started to harden.

Replacement valves are either manmade or made from living tissue from human or animal sources. Lawrie said Mrs. Bush received a valve from a pig.

When left untreated, a hardened aortic valve can result in heart failure or sudden cardiac death, the hospital said. The valve, on the left side of the heart, can harden with age and become less effective. Symptoms of aortic valve disease include shortness of breath, chest pains and dizziness.

Houston television station KRTK reported that Mrs. Bush almost didn't want her children to know about the surgery because she didn't think it was a big deal. She is the mother of the former president and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The other Bush children are sons Neil and Marvin and daughter Dorothy.

Barbara Bush underwent surgery in November for a perforated ulcer. The hospital said the two were unrelated.

The former Barbara Pierce, daughter of the publisher of McCall's magazine, married George H.W. Bush in 1945 when he returned a hero from World War II.

They had their first child, George, while still at Yale in 1946. A daughter, Robin, died in 1953 of leukemia a few weeks before her 4th birthday.

Barbara Bush disclosed she was suffering from an overactive thyroid ailment known as Graves' disease when she lived at the White House. The disease causes teary eyes and double vision, according to her doctors.

The Methodist Hospital released the following statement Wednesday night:


"Former First Lady Barbara Bush is recovering from successful heart surgery Wednesday at The Methodist Hospital in Houston. The aortic valve replacement was scheduled last week after she experienced shortness of breath and physicians detected a hardened valve in her heart. Bush is awake and alert as she recovers in the ICU, with her husband by her bedside.

"I am very impressed with and grateful to the wonderful team of doctors and nurses at The Methodist Hospital who have helped Barbara," said former President George H. W. Bush. "We have every confidence she is in the best hands."

Dr. Gerald Lawrie, heart surgeon at the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center, performed the 2 ½ -hour procedure, replacing her aortic valve with a biologic valve. A hardened aortic valve needs to be replaced because, when left untreated, it can result in heart failure or sudden cardiac death.

"The surgery went extremely well and we were able to successfully replace her aortic valve," Lawrie said. "I expect her to recover fully and soon resume her normal activities."

The aortic valve is on the left side of the heart. It opens to allow blood to be pumped out of the heart into the body, then closes to prevent blood from flowing back into the heart.

With age, the aortic valve can harden, making it less effective. Symptoms of aortic valve disease include shortness of breath, chest pain or dizziness.

In November, Mrs. Bush underwent surgery to repair a perforated ulcer. She is fully recovered from the surgery, and the two medical issues are unrelated. We anticipate she will be discharged in 7 - 10 days."


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