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Sen. Helms Stops Breathing, Put on Respirator During Heart Surgery Recovery

June 8, 1992

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Sen. Jesse Helms, who underwent open heart surgery last week, stopped breathing Sunday and was placed on a respirator. Doctors said he was expected to recover.

Helms, 70, a conservative Republican who has served 20 years in the Senate, has been in intensive care since heart valve replacement and four heart bypass grafts performed Wednesday.

He stopped breathing shortly after 5 a.m. because of fluid in his respiratory tract, said Dr. Bertram Coffer, head anesthesiologist at Rex Hospital and a friend of the senator.

An anesthesiologist in the room at the time used a squeeze bag to force air into Helms’ lungs for about one minute until he could be put on a respirator, hospital officials said.

Coffer said Helms would be taken off the respirator on Monday.

Helms’ condition was downgraded from good to fair, but doctors expected a full recovery.

″His family has visited with him several times during the day,″ Coffer said. ″They remain encouraged and optimistic.″

Coffer said no effort was needed to keep Helms’ heart beating and that there has been no evidence of pneumonia, stroke or bleeding.

The coronary bypass is an operation that began in the 1960s as a way of increasing blood circulation and nourishment to the heart muscle.

Helms could have had the surgery in Washington at a military hospital, but his family preferred the local hospital.

A former television editorialist and newspaper editor, Helms was elected to the Senate in 1972.

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