Yeltsin surgery a success; full recovery predicted

MOSCOW (AP) — Boris Yeltsin’s heart bypass surgery was pronounced a success Tuesday and surgeons predicted a full recovery, easing anxiety that has hobbled Russia for months. Yeltsin could take back his powers and the nuclear button in two days, but may not go back to his office until the new year.
The operation lasted seven hours and involved five bypasses. Yeltsin regained consciousness about five hours later, was heavily sedated and was still on a respirator to guard against postoperative complications. Doctors said they couldn’t predict when he could leave the hospital.
Dr. Renat Akchurin, leader of the 12-man surgical team that conducted the coronary artery bypass operation, would not specify the number of bypasses, saying only it “significantly exceeded” the three or four doctors initially had speculated might be necessary.
Dr. George Noon of Houston, who was among the consultants who flew to Moscow to observe the surgery, said early Wednesday that Yeltsin had five bypasses.
Doctors said Yeltsin’s blood circulation had been improved significantly.
Yeltsin’s long illness has left Russia with a part-time leader at best and spawned power struggles among presidential wanna-bes. Financial markets trembled at rumors about his health and the government, by many accounts, was near paralysis.
Dr. Yevgeny Chazov, head of the Moscow Cardiological Center where the operation was performed, said there were no complications during the surgery. Dr. Michael DeBakey, the American heart surgery pioneer who is a consultant on the case and who trained Akchurin, declared it a success.
“I would predict the president to be able to return to his office and perform his duty in perfectly normal fashion,” said DeBakey, who watched the operation on a monitor outside the operating room with a team of American and German consultants.
It could be a day or two before Yeltsin, 65, is well enough to reclaim the presidential powers, including control over Russia’s immense nuclear arsenal, that he handed off to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin before the surgery.
“He is going to decide that for himself,” a weary Akchurin told reporters. “Most probably it will happen tomorrow or the day after.”
President Clinton’s press secretary, Mike McCurry, said Chernomyrdin called Clinton Tuesday to report that the operation “had gone well and President Yeltsin is doing well.”
Akchurin said Yeltsin would likely remain on a respirator overnight to minimize the chance of complications. The president’s postoperative treatment depends on how soon Yeltsin is breathing on his own, he said.
A presidential spokesman said Yeltsin regained consciousness but was heavily sedated.
Yeltsin was on a heart-lung machine for 68 minutes during surgery, Akchurin said.
The president’s illness has tested the frankness of the Kremlin, a hulking fortress that for centuries has hoarded information about Russia’s leaders with an implacable zeal.
Yeltsin concealed a heart attack right before he was re-elected in July, then waited until September to tell the nation he needed surgery. That burst of openness, however, was followed by a paucity of information that proved a breeding ground for ugly rumors and the naked ambition of would-be successors.
Throughout it all, Yeltsin and his men insisted that the president was still in charge — an assertion the president’s foes openly mocked.
For ordinary people, the most direct result of the convoluted political drama was a government cash crisis triggered in part by the uncertainty of a presidential election followed by a grave presidential illness.
Yeltsin issued a statement to the nation Tuesday.
“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.
Akchurin said it would be five or six days before he might be willing to predict when the president can go back to work.
DeBakey earlier said Yeltsin faces six to eight weeks of recovery, which would put him back in the Kremlin around the end of the year.