Cleveland Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential candidate, had an experimental device inserted into his main blood vessel on Wednesday to treat an aneurysm.
Dole, 77, was in recovery at the Cleveland Clinic after the treatment for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, said Kenneth Ouriel, one of three surgeons on the team that inserted the stent graft. His wife, Elizabeth, and his daughter were with him.
"He maintained his sense of humor throughout his care," said Ouriel, chairman of vascular surgery. "I can't remember the multiplicity of jokes."
An aneurysm is a bulge on a blood vessel. When it occurs in the nearly inch-thick aorta descending from the heart, it can burst and kill nearly instantly.
The former Senate majority leader was lucky his aneurysm was diagnosed "serendipitously" during an exam for another condition two or three years ago, Ouriel said. The bulge was small enough that it wasn't in danger of bursting.
Usually, patients feel no symptoms until the rupture, Ouriel said.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms strike about 1.5 million older Americans.
Doctors watched Dole's aneurysm until it grew worse. In a checkup in early June at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., they said he should have it treated.
Ouriel said the team inserted a Y-shaped tube through an incision in Dole's leg and placed it inside the weakened portion of the aorta. Eventually, the aneurysm will contract around the stent.
The stent will remain in place for the rest of Dole's life. He will get yearly checkups.
The traditional way of treating this type of aneurysm involves a major abdominal incision. The experimental device, in use in 15 research centers nationwide, is awaiting government approval.
In the past 18 months, Cleveland Clinic surgeons have implanted nearly 300 of the devices with less than 1 percent mortality, said Roy Greenberg, another surgeon on the team.
Dole is expected to be released from the clinic by the end of the week and will be able to resume normal activities within 10 days.
Dole, who represented Kansas in Congress as a representative and senator for more than three decades, now works for the Washington lobbying firm of Verner, Lipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand.