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Hunter Wounded by Cheney Suffers Setback

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) -- The 78-year-old lawyer who was shot by Vice President Dick Cheney in a hunting accident has some birdshot lodged in his heart and he had "a minor heart attack" Tuesday morning, hospital officials said.

The victim, Harry Whittington, was immediately moved back to the intensive care unit for further treatment, said Peter Banko, the administrator at Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial in Texas.

Banko said there was an irregularity in the heartbeat caused by a pellet, and doctors performed a cardiac catheterization.

Whittington expressed a desire to leave the hospital, but Banko said he would probably stay for another week to make sure more shot doesn't move to other organs or other parts of his body.

"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," Banko said in a news conference outside the hospital.

David Blanchard, chief of emergency care, called it "a silent heart attack, an asymptomatic heart attack. He's not had a heart attack in the traditional sense."

The doctors said Whittington did not experience symptoms of a heart attack or any other problems. They left the birdshot in place and said he could live a healthy life with it there.

White House physicians who attended to Whittington at the scene after Cheney accidentally shot him were involved in the treatment, the officials said.

Whittington had initially been placed in intensive care after the accident Saturday evening. He had been moved to a "step-down unit" Monday after doctors decided to leave several birdshot pellets lodged in his skin rather than try to remove them.

A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department report issued Monday said Whittington was retrieving a downed bird and stepped out of the hunting line he was sharing with Cheney. "Another covey was flushed and Cheney swung on a bird and fired, striking Whittington in the face, neck and chest at approximately 30 yards," the report said.

The department found the main factor contributing to the accident was a "hunter's judgment factor." No other secondary factors were found to have played a role.

The department gave Cheney and Whittington warning citations for breaking Texas hunting law by failing to buy a $7 stamp allowing them to shoot upland game birds. A department spokesman said warnings are being issued in most cases because the stamp requirement only went into effect five months ago and many hunters weren't aware of it.

Cheney's office said Monday night in a statement that Cheney had a $125 nonresident hunting license and has sent a $7 check to cover the cost of the stamp. "The staff asked for all permits needed, but was not informed of the $7 upland game bird stamp requirement," the statement said.

Cheney, an experienced hunter, has not said anything publicly about the accident. It was fodder for jokes on late night TV and early Tuesday at the White House, before news surfaced about problems with Whittington's heart.

Hospital officials said they notified the White House of the change in Whittington's condition late in the morning. White House spokesman Scott McClellan's mood was much more serious in an afternoon news briefing shortly before the hospital publicly updated Whittington's condition.

Katharine Armstrong, owner of the ranch where the shooting occurred, said Whittington made a mistake by not announcing that he had walked up to rejoin the hunting line after going to retrieve his bird, and Cheney didn't see him as he tried to down a bird.

The accident raised questions about Cheney's adherence to hunting safety practices and the White House's failure to disclose the accident in a timely way.

Several hunting safety experts agreed in interviews that it would have been a good idea for Whittington to announce himself. But every expert stressed that the shooter is responsible for avoiding other people.

Bush was told about Cheney's involvement in the accident shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday -- about an hour after it occurred -- but the White House did not disclose the accident until Sunday afternoon, and then only in response to media questions.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.