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(Late Afternoon) September 11, 2001: Blood Test Suggests Vice President Cheney Is in Imminent Danger of Suffering a Heart Attack

Jonathan Reiner.Jonathan Reiner. [Source: GW Medical Faculty Associates]Vice President Dick Cheney’s doctors receive the results of a blood test, which indicate that Cheney is at serious risk of a heart attack, but a subsequent blood test carried out in response to their concerns will show there is no danger and the vice president is in fine health. Cheney has struggled with coronary disease for decades. He has suffered four heart attacks, the most recent of which occurred in November 2000. [New York Times, 10/16/2013; CBS, 10/20/2013] He had a defibrillator implanted just over two months ago. [New York Times, 7/1/2001] Early this morning, at the request of Dr. Lewis Hofmann, his White House physician, a nurse from the White House Medical Unit took a sample of his blood. This was sent to the lab at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, so the results of testing would be available by 5:00 p.m., when Dr. Jonathan Reiner, his cardiologist, is due to meet him.
Test Results Indicate 'a Medical Emergency' - The results turn out to be alarming. Sometime this afternoon, Reiner receives a call from Hofmann, who is with Cheney. Hofmann says that despite the day’s chaotic events, the blood sample made it to the lab and he has received the results of the testing. These show that Cheney’s potassium level is 6.9. A high blood concentration of potassium is called hyperkalemia and a level as high as 6.9 “is a medical emergency because it can lead to cardiac arrest,” Reiner will later explain. [Cheney and Reiner, 2013, pp. 187-188] “Potassium of 6.9 can kill you,” he will state. [CBS, 10/20/2013]
Second Blood Test Will Show that Cheney's Health Is Fine - Incredulous, the cardiologist says there must be an error. Hofmann says he thought this too, but the lab has verified the result. Hofmann asks if Cheney’s defibrillator will protect the vice president but Reiner explains that if Cheney really is hyperkalemic, it will not. Reiner suggests to Hofmann that he take another sample of blood from the vice president this evening and repeat the potassium test tonight. Cheney, though, will refuse to give another sample today (see (Between 10:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001) and instead provides one early in the morning of September 12. Testing of this sample will reveal that the concern was unwarranted and Cheney’s potassium level is normal. Reiner will explain how he believes the false alarm came about, writing, “[U]ltimately we deduced that the high potassium was simply the result of the prolonged delay in processing the sample, which ensued following the evacuation of the White House.” [Cheney and Reiner, 2013, pp. 188-189, 193-194]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jonathan Reiner, Lewis Hofmann

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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