Bill Clinton returned home early yesterday in "excellent health," according to his staff, after undergoing a procedure to open a heart artery that had become blocked and was causing him chest pains.
The operation – involving the insertion of two devices called stents into the artery – came five and a half years after the former US president had a quadruple heart bypass. Mr Clinton, who is 63, did not suffer a heart attack before being admitted to hospital in Manhattan, but aides said that without treatment he might have done so within days.
Yesterday he walked to his vehicle after being discharged at 7am, and half an hour later arrived at his home in the New York suburb of Chappaqua, which he and his wife, Hillary Clinton, now Secretary of State, bought near the end of his presidency in 1999. Mrs Clinton interrupted her schedule to be with him at the hospital, along with the couple's daughter, Chelsea, who is getting married this year. But Mrs Clinton's planned trip to the Gulf this weekend is going ahead – "which should speak volumes," a State Department official said.
The health scare has come as Mr Clinton is throwing his considerable energies into helping recovery efforts in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Since the quake on 12 January, he has travelled to Haiti twice, and according to The New York Times yesterday, only reluctantly ended a mobile phone conference call on the crisis as he was being wheeled into the operating theatre.
The stents were inserted after tests showed that one of the arteries operated on in 2004 needed to be reopened, but Allan Schwartz, head of cardiology at the hospital, said yesterday that Mr Clinton could get back to work on Monday, describing his prognosis as "excellent". The White House said that Mr Clinton told President Barack Obama that he felt "absolutely great" after the procedure.
Before and during his presidency, Mr Clinton was known for his love of fatty fast foods, and constantly struggled with his weight. In a television interview just before his surgery in 2004, he acknowledged that "I may have done some damage in those years when I was too careless about what I ate ... I've got a problem and I've got a chance to deal with it."
By all accounts he has. He has switched to the South Beach diet that emphasises lean meat and unprocessed foods, takes frequent exercise and has visibly lost weight and looks fitter. With a hint of disappointment, friends now talk of the steamed fish and vegetable dinners now on offer at Chappaqua.
Such a follow-up operation after a heart bypass is far from unusual. Inevitably though, the former president will have to take things easy for a while. But by nature he has never been a man to twiddle his thumbs, and his popularity ensures he is in constant demand around the world.
Mr Clinton has set up a New York-based philanthropic foundation to tackle global problems, with the support of leading corporations and rich individuals. As a special US envoy for Haiti, he has worked with his successor at the White House, George Bush.
Earlier, Mr Clinton and the first President Bush, his predecessor in office, were joint US envoys to promote relief efforts for survivors of the tsunami in 2004 in South Asia, which killed over 300,000 people.