Rep. Steven Horsford, back at work after heart surgery, plans to use his recent scare to push for improved health care options in Southern Nevada, including starting a local medical school.
Horsford, D-Las Vegas, went under the knife in early July after a routine checkup showed he had severe heart blockage. He underwent a six-way bypass in which surgeons replaced blood vessels linked to his heart with an artery from his left arm and veins from his left leg and chest.
The surgery was performed in the District of Columbia area, where the diagnosis came. He came home for rehabilitation in mid-July.
This week he got back to full-time work at his office in North Las Vegas City Hall. He will be based there until Congress returns to Washington in September after its August recess. And he is wasting no time making sure the public knows a heart problem won’t derail his political career: On Friday, he announced plans for his 2014 re-election campaign.
As Horsford puts it, his heart was working at only 25 percent of its capacity before surgery. Now it’s at the halfway point, and doctors believe with continued therapy, monitoring and lifestyle changes, he will get up to 100 percent.
The 40-year-old said he hadn’t felt chest pain or pressure, but a series of tests showed his heart was in danger. A second doctor’s opinion backed up the first.
“That came as a huge a shock,” Horsford said Thursday, adding he is in cardiac rehabilitation — largely walking for 20-minute intervals two to three times daily. “Now that I’ve had this surgery and I’m five weeks into recovery, I feel great.”
The famous get more attention when they undergo a procedure, Horsford said, pointing to this week’s news that former President George W. Bush received a heart stent. But it’s average people who need to be more aware of the benefits of preventative care and healthy living. They might learn heart disease is hereditary in their family, like in Horsford’s.
Rolling out provisions of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act is a good start, Horsford said, but ensuring access to coverage doesn’t change mindsets. What the United States needs, he said, is reform.
“We need to have a local, state and national discussion around how we improve integrated health care quality in our country,” Horsford said.
Keeping medical residents who train in the Las Vegas area here will help, Horsford said. One way to do that will be establishing a state-funded medical school locally. He praised efforts from university system Regent Mark Doubrava to explore that possibility. The congressman said he would focus on finding federal funding for the project.
In the meantime, Horsford said he plans to work his way up the rehab ladder from walking to a new hobby: riding a bicycle. He said he hopes to lead some community rides to promote healthier lifestyles.
The father of three — ages 13, 10 and 6 — said he will miss snacking on Rice Krispies treats and pizza with them. He has traded junk food for lean meats, salads and the occasional handful of cashews, almonds and cranberries. His wife stays on top of that.
While he was out of commission, Horsford missed 13 votes, according to Project Vote Smart, which tracks congressional action. Horsford said he would have voted for a proposed amendment aimed at curtailing the National Security Agency’s power to track phone records of Americans who have not been accused of crimes. It failed 205-217.
Votes from Nevada’s other representatives mirrored the bipartisan appeal of the proposal: Republican Mark Amodei was a yea, while Republican Joe Heck and Democrat Dina Titus were nays.
Horsford said he and other congressmen toured NSA headquarters the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, so he appreciates seeing the agency in action. But he still doesn’t approve of such wide-ranging data collection.
“We should be able to balance both the need for national security — which I want — with our personal civil liberties and privacy,” Horsford said, the day before Obama announced a proposals to add transparency to the secret proceedings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
When asked about the controversial whistle-blower Edward Snowden, Horsford wouldn’t take the same stance as fellow Rep. John Lewis. The Georgia Democrat this week told the British newspaper The Guardian he believed Snowden, a former federal contractor who leaked information about the government’s tracking capabilities, was acting in civil disobedience.
Instead, Horsford said, now’s the time to figure out how so many people who aren’t even public employees, which brings a level of accountability, have access to such sensitive information.
“That’s a problem we need to fix,” Horsford said.
Contact reporter Adam Kealoha Causey at acausey@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0361.