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Surgeons Successfully Carry Out Heart Bypass Surgery on Yeltsin

November 5, 1996

MOSCOW (AP) _ Surgeons successfully carried out a seven-hour heart bypass operation today on President Boris Yeltsin to clear clogged arteries, and said he should make a good recovery and resume his duties soon.

American heart expert Dr. Michael DeBakey, who consulted on the surgery, said Yeltsin should recover quickly without serious complications.

``On the basis of the results of the operation, I would predict the president to be able to return to his office and perform his duty in perfectly normal fashion,″ DeBakey told reporters after the operation at the Moscow Cardiological Center.

The operation came after months of uncertainty about the president’s health and his ability to govern his vast, turbulent nation. Yeltsin and his aides hope the operation will end the doubt that has paralyzed the government in the past four months since his re-election.

Dr. Renat Akchurin, who performed the surgery, said Yeltsin would probably be able to reclaim his presidential powers from Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin within two days.

``He is going to decide that himself,″ the doctor said.

Akchurin said Yeltsin’s heart had been stopped for 68 minutes during the operation while he was kept alive on a heart-lung machine. He said the effects of anesthetic would not completely wear off until Wednesday.

Looking tired but pleased, Akchurin said the surgery had gone well and that there had been no unexpected problems. The Russian doctor said Yeltsin still faced a recovery period, but his heart would now be able to function well.

Akchurin declined to say how many bypasses he performed on the president, insisting it was a personal matter for the patient.

``Sometimes one bypass is enough. But sometimes up to five or six bypasses are needed to save the patient,″ he said.

Doctors expect Yeltsin to return to work after six weeks to eight weeks of rest.

Spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said the bypass operation took seven hours, ending around 2 p.m. (6 a.m. EST).

Yeltsin was confident and joked with doctors before the surgery, which was carried out by a team of 12 Russian doctors, including four surgeons.

``I’m not going to stay in the hospital bed for too long. I believe that I soon will be working as before _ at full strength,″ Yeltsin said before the operation.

Shortly before going under the knife, Yeltsin transferred power to Chernomyrdin, including control of Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal. The premier visited the hospital while Yeltsin was in surgery, but made no public comment.

The surgical team was led by Akchurin, who trained in the United States with DeBakey. DeBakey and a team of American and German surgeons watched the surgery on a monitor outside the operating room in case advice was needed.

Several members of the president’s family were at the hospital.

The president ``appeared energetic and felt optimistic and was joking before the operation,″ Yastrzhembsky said.

Meeting the chief Kremlin physician, Dr. Sergei Mironov, before the surgery, Yeltsin smiled and jokingly asked, ``Are you carrying a knife already?″ the spokesman said.

The 65-year-old president also thanked the ordinary people who had sent letters and telegrams wishing him a quick recovery.

``Dear Russians, you are all aware that I have to undergo a serious operation. I would like to thank all of you who sent letters and telegrams. Compassion and kind words are sometimes more important than any medicine,″ he said in a statement.

Talking about the responsibility of operating on the president, Akchurin said, ``I tried to forget that this is the president of Russia and tried to think of him as a patient.″

If Yeltsin were to die or was incapacitated, Chernomyrdin would take over, but would be required to call elections within three months.

In transferring his powers temporarily to Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin assured the Russian nation that the government was in firm hands and there was no need for concern.

``The country will not be left without a leader,″ he said in the statement.

Russia faces growing discontent as the economy continues to decline and millions of workers go without pay. Yeltsin won a second four-year term in July, but many Russians doubt the government can fix the nation’s problems.

Many are unhappy with his administration and the political turmoil that has plagued the country.

``Who needs such a president?″ said Valentina Zharova, a pensioner who was selling goods from a cardboard box on a Moscow sidewalk. ``He should stay at home. He didn’t do anything good for us. People are hungry, and they haven’t been paid in half a year.″

Yeltsin’s spokesman denied the operation had been scheduled to coincide with the U.S. presidential election to deflect international attention.

``These two events are unrelated. The operation started after the patient had been brought to the peak of his pre-operation form,″ Yastrzhembsky said.

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