Cheney's Transplant Reignites Youth vs. Age Debate

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Former vice president Dick Cheney is recovering after undergoing a heart transplant.

The 71-year-old received his new heart Saturday at the Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va., the same place where he received an implanted heart pump that has kept him alive since July 2010.

Cheney will have to take medicines to prevent rejection of his new heart. He will also have to go through rehabilitation to walk.

The announcement of Cheney's surgery has reignited the debate about whether youth should be favored over age in transplant surgeries.

Doctors say time on the waiting list, medical need, and location all determine who an available heart goes to -- not how many years a patient will live to make use of it.

"We have done several patients hovering around age 70" although that's about "the upper limit" for a transplant, said Dr. Mariell Jessup, a University of Pennsylvania heart failure specialist and American Heart Association spokeswoman.

"The fact he waited such a long time shows he didn't get any favors," Jessup said.

More than 3,100 Americans are waiting now for a new heart, and about 330 die each year before one becomes available.

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