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Hunter shot by Cheney has minor heart attack

Doctors: Birdshot moved to Harry Whittington's heart

Tuesday, February 14, 2006; Posted: 7:21 p.m. EST (00:21 GMT) Tuesday, February 14, 2006; Posted: 7:21 p.m. EST (00:21 GMT)

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CNN) -- The fellow hunter who was shot and wounded by Vice President Dick Cheney has suffered a minor heart attack after a piece of birdshot migrated to his heart, a hospital spokesman said Tuesday.

Harry Whittington, 78, is in stable condition in intensive care and will remain hospitalized for up to seven days, hospital officials said.

"Some of the birdshot appears to have moved and lodged into part of his heart ... in what we would say is a minor heart attack," said Peter Banko, administrator at Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial. (Watch what alerted doctors to the birdshot in Whittington's heart -- 2:32)

Cheney and Whittington were hunting quail on a friend's south Texas ranch Saturday when the vice president shot and wounded him.

Cheney was told when he arrived Tuesday morning at the White House that doctors had decided, after overnight monitoring, to perform a cardiac catheterization on Whittington, according to the vice president's office.

After watching part of the briefing on Whittington's condition, Cheney called Whittington and spoke to him, telling him "that he stood ready to assist," Cheney's office said in a written statement, adding that "Mr. Whittington's spirits were good, but obviously his situation deserves the careful monitoring that his doctors are providing."

Doctors were deciding how to treat Whittington's condition, which was discovered after doctors noticed an irregularity in his heartbeat, Banko said.

Dr. David Blanchard, the hospital's emergency room chief, said Whittington suffered an "asymptomatic heart attack," meaning Whittington did not display symptoms such as chest pains or breathing difficulty. He said a roughly 5 mm piece of shot became lodged in or alongside Whittington's heart muscle, causing the organ's upper two chambers to beat irregularly.

Physicians from the White House staff, who helped treat Whittington after Cheney shot him in a Saturday hunting accident, have been consulted on the situation, Banko said.

Authorities have cleared Cheney of wrongdoing in the accidental shooting of Whittington, but questions about Saturday's incident remain.

During Tuesday's White House news conference, spokesman Scott McClellan was asked if waiting 14 hours after the shooting before Cheney spoke with police was appropriate, and whether an average citizen would have been afforded the same amount of time.

"That was what was arranged with the local law enforcement authorities," McClellan said. "You ought to ask them that question."

McClellan referred other questions about Cheney's shooting of Whittington, a Bush-Cheney campaign contributor, to the vice president's office and local police.

"This department is fully satisfied that this was no more than a hunting accident," the Kenedy County Sheriff's Department said in a statement issued Monday evening. (Watch reporters pepper White House spokesman with questions about the shooting -- 2:03)

Sheriff's deputies in Kenedy County, near Corpus Christi, questioned Cheney on Sunday and Whittington on Monday.

Whittington, a prominent Texas lawyer and a campaign donor to the Bush-Cheney campaigns in 2000 and 2004, was hit on the right side of his face, neck and chest when Cheney, an avid hunter, turned and fired on a covey of quail at a ranch near Kingsville, Texas, on Saturday.

According to Katharine Armstrong, who accompanied the hunting party, Whittington shot a quail, dropped back from the rest of the group to retrieve it and was rejoining the group when Cheney fired.

Cheney's office did not disclose the shooting until Sunday afternoon, after the Armstrongs, the family that owns the ranch, told a Corpus Christi newspaper about it. (Time.com: How Cheney stalled news reports)

McClellan told reporters on Monday that the focus in the immediate aftermath of the shooting was to make sure the man Cheney wounded got medical attention.

"It's important, always, to work to make sure you get information out like this as quickly as possible," McClellan said. "But it's also important to make sure that the first priority is focused where it should be, and that is making sure that Mr. Whittington has the care that he needs."

McClellan said Cheney agreed that his friend Armstrong should tell the Corpus Christi Caller-Times about the incident, a move that provoked questions from reporters.

Asked whether it was appropriate "for a private citizen to be the person to disseminate the information that the vice president of the United States has shot someone," McClellan said, "That's one way to provide information to the public."

Armstrong said no one discussed informing the public about the incident until Sunday morning, when she and her mother raised the matter with Cheney. Saturday night, she said, "The only concern we all had was about Harry."

But she said Cheney made it clear he knew it had to be made public.

A medical team accompanying the vice president administered first aid to Whittington when the accident happened at 5:50 p.m., Secret Service spokesman Tom Mazur said. The Secret Service told sheriff's deputies about the accident an hour later, after Whittington was headed for a hospital in Kingsville and the hunting party had returned to the ranch house, he said.

A Kenedy County sheriff's deputy questioned Cheney about the shooting on Sunday, Mazur said.

White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told President Bush about 7:30 p.m. Saturday that there had been a hunting accident, but Card did not know the vice president had been involved at the time, the White House said. About 8 p.m., after talking with Armstrong, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove told Bush that Cheney had shot Whittington.

Whittington has been active in Texas GOP politics since the 1960s and served as chairman of the state Board of Corrections from 1979 to 1985. In 1999, then-Gov. Bush named him to the state Funeral Services Commission, which had been stung by allegations of widespread corruption and mismanagement in the industry. (Whittington profile)

Katharine Armstrong's mother, Anne Armstrong, served on the board of directors of Halliburton, the oil field service company Cheney ran before becoming vice president. She also served as U.S. ambassador to Britain in the Ford administration.

CNN's Dana Bash, Suzanne Malveaux and Tim McCaughan contributed to this report.

 

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