Sanders never considered leaving race after heart attack

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bernie Sanders said Thursday that he never considered dropping out of the presidential race after suffering a heart attack last week and characterized his recovery as "so far, so very good" despite acknowledging that the incident left his heart "with some damage."

In an interview with CNN from his Vermont home, where he is recuperating, the senator said he felt "not an ounce of pain" and that, after attending Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate in Ohio, he's likely to make trips to Iowa, Nevada and possibly New Hampshire.

"We're ready to go full blast," Sanders said.

His campaign announced that Sanders would use livestream to address and take questions from the United Food and Commercial Workers presidential forum Sunday in Altoona, Iowa. The state kicks off the presidential nominating process in less than four months.

"When you hear the word 'heart attack', you're thinking of somebody lying on the ground in terrible pain. It wasn't the case, OK," Sanders said. "The day I woke up after the procedure, no pain. Zero pain. No pain right now. I feel really good."

He said he felt symptoms for several weeks that he "should have paid more attention to," including being especially fatigued after long campaign days, having trouble sleeping and sometimes feeling a "little unsteady" at the podium while speaking at events. He said he once moved to hold a microphone to his mouth and realized his arm hurt.

On the evening of Oct. 1, he was at an event in Las Vegas and asked for a chair to be brought on stage "for the first time in my life," he said.

Sweating profusely, he said he left the event quicker than usual and was heading back to the hotel when pain in his arm prompted him to head to an urgent care medical facility where "the doctor made the diagnosis in about three seconds."

Taken by ambulance to the hospital, Sanders said he underwent surgery to insert stents for a blocked artery in about 45 minutes.

"Who knows, there's some folks who think that I might be a little bit stronger because I'll have an artery that's not blocked," Sanders said. He said he's learned that many hundreds of thousands of people have the same procedure every year.

Sanders said he had begun seeing a cardiologist in Vermont who told him he was "on the road to a full recovery."

"There was some damage but, what happens is, is within the next month we'll see what happens," he said. "But so far, so very good."

Asked about taking new medications or changes to his diet, Sanders said he would watch his diet more carefully. "We're going to do better with food."

The interview came hours after Sanders posted a 7-minute online video to supporters saying he's getting his endurance back and growing "stronger every day." He also tweeted a clip under the heading "Playoff baseball comes to our backyard" featuring Sanders hitting baseballs and exclaiming "All right!" when a staffer off camera caught one of his popups.

While lying in a hospital bed last week in Las Vegas, he said in the video that he "thought about a lot of things, needless to say," including "what would have happened" if he did not have health insurance through his job as a senator and Medicare.

Sanders insisted the experience made him "feel even more strongly" the need to continue "efforts to end this dysfunctional and cruel health care system" and provide universal health insurance through a "Medicare for All" plan.

He also recalled thinking, "Yeah, I've had a rough week. I've suffered adversity and that's true." But, he added, many people are dealing "with a lot more pain than I am," including homelessness, the need to work multiple jobs or having to forgo college because of fears about debt.

Sanders staff initially said stents were inserted for a blocked artery, revealing only two days later that he had suffered a heart attack.

The senator originally suggested he may slow his pace of campaigning after his health scare but backtracked in a Wednesday interview with NBC News. He told CNN that what he meant was that he probably would not do four rallies a day as soon as next week.

Sander's national campaign co-chairwoman, Nina Turner, seemed to back up his original sentiment, though, saying previously that Sanders staffers were examining where and how to make changes to reflect concerns about his health.

Asked during the CNN interview about waiting to disclose he had a heart attack, Sanders said "people do have the right to know about the health of a senator and somebody who's running for president" but that the initial information was incomplete.

"The first concern, I think that people had, was we had to understand what was going on," he said "before we're going to, you know, reveal information dribble by dribble."