World and Nation

Bill Clinton undergoes surgery to clear a blocked artery

WASHINGTON —Former President Bill Clinton was taken to a New York hospital on Thursday after experiencing chest pains and underwent a procedure to clear a blocked artery that, if untreated, might have led to a heart attack within days, aides said.

Clinton, 63, who has a history of heart trouble, had two stents inserted into a native coronary artery after a bypass graft from an operation nearly six years ago became obstructed. Within hours, aides said, his blood pressure returned to a normal level and he was resting comfortably at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital, where he was to remain overnight.

“President Clinton is in good spirits and will continue to focus on the work of his foundation and Haiti’s relief and long-term recovery efforts,” his counselor, Douglas J. Band, said in a statement.

The episode came just days after Clinton returned from Haiti, where he serves as the U.N. special envoy and is helping coordinate recovery from last month’s earthquake. He was talking about Haiti on a mobile telephone with his wife’s chief of staff, Cheryl D. Mills, even as he was being wheeled into the operating room, and only reluctantly gave up the phone, said an associate, who like others insisted on anonymity to describe the day’s events.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton learned of her husband’s procedure shortly before her regular weekly meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, said a senior State Department official. She went ahead with the meeting and then left for New York.

She decided to delay her departure for the Persian Gulf to Saturday from Friday to be with her husband. She is to travel to Qatar and then to Saudi Arabia, where she is scheduled to meet King Abdullah. The State Department official said Hillary Clinton was confident that her husband would be fine. “The trip is on, which should speak volumes,” the official said.

Obama called the former president at the hospital about 7 p.m. “He said that the efforts in Haiti were too important for him to be laid up for too long and hopes he’ll be ready to get back to work as soon as possible,” a White House official said, adding that Clinton told the president that he felt “absolutely great.”

Former President George W. Bush, who has teamed with Clinton on Haiti earthquake relief, called the hospital as well and reached the Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea, who was there with her fiance, Marc Mezvinsky. “President Bush looks forward to continuing to work with his friend on Haiti relief and rebuilding,” said David Sherzer, Bush’s spokesman.

Clinton had quadruple coronary artery bypass surgery in 2004. He never had a heart attack, but that surgery was similarly prompted by complaints about chest pain and shortness of breath. He later developed a rare complication, with scar tissue and fluid building up in his lung, making it hard for him to breathe, requiring another operation in March 2005.