Heart transplant recipients of Dick Cheney's age—that would be 71—"don't generally do so well" after the surgery, a leading cardiologist tells USA Today—but the former VP is by no means the oldest patient to undergo the procedure, experts say. In this case, health trumps age: A younger person with other health concerns could face greater risks than a healthy older one. Still, "it's not that he shouldn't get a transplant," says cardiologist Eric Topol. "It's a question of 'Who didn't get one?'"
The 20 months Cheney spent on the waiting list is lengthy: "There's no leapfrogging," another doctor says. His case would have been classed as having "moderate" urgency thanks to the mechanical heart pump he has had since 2010. Indeed, though his name was added to the transplant list much earlier, Cheney's decision to have the transplant didn't come until two months ago and wasn't prompted by any new health crisis, his cardiologist tells the New York Times. Instead, Cheney weighed factors like the possibility that his pump line could cause an infection (the Times notes he also can't fully immerse in a bathtub—or pool, we imagine). Bleeding and infection are his top post-op risks. But outside of the heart condition, Cheney is healthy, Dr. Jonathan Reiner says; he advised the former VP that "it would not be unreasonable for an otherwise healthy 71-year-old man to expect to live another 10 years" following the transplant.