Bernie Sanders. (AP Photo/ Cheryl Senter)

WASHINGTON - U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders underwent an unexpected heart procedure on Tuesday for a blockage in an artery and canceled campaign events for the White House until further notice, an adviser said.

Sanders, 78, was in Las Vegas, Nevada, for 2020 presidential campaign events when he experienced discomfort and was taken to a hospital for evaluation.

“Following medical evaluation and testing he was found to have a blockage in one artery and two stents were successfully inserted,” Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver said in a statement.

“Sen. Sanders is conversing and in good spirits. He will be resting up over the next few days. We are canceling his events and appearances until further notice, and we will continue to provide appropriate updates,” Weaver said.

Sanders, the oldest of 19 contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, was scheduled to hold a town hall in Las Vegas and appear at a gun safety forum on Wednesday.

Aides did not offer any guidance on how long Sanders might be off the campaign trail. The first nominating contest is not until Feb. 3 in Iowa, but Sanders is one of 12 candidates scheduled to participate in the fourth Democratic debate in Ohio on Oct. 15.

The U.S. senator from Vermont has been among the top contenders in the crowded field seeking the 2020 nomination to challenge Republican President Donald Trump.

The incident could renew questions about Sanders’ age in a Democratic race featuring a generational divide between older candidates such as Sanders and front-runner Joe Biden, 76, and a some younger contenders such as Pete Buttigieg, 37, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

In a letter made public during the 2016 campaign, Sanders’ doctor said he was in “overall good health” and he had no history of cardiovascular disease.

The insertion of stents to open blocked heart arteries is a relatively common procedure, with as many as one million Americans a year undergoing it, medical experts said. It involves inserting a balloon-tipped catheter to open blockage and deploy tiny wire-mesh tubes to prop open the artery.

RECOVERY

In general, recovery takes a few days, but how quickly Sanders will bounce back depends on his symptoms before getting the stent, said Dr. Steven Nissen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

“People recover quickly, and assuming no complications, there is no reason why he could not get back on the campaign trail in a timely fashion,” Nissen said.

A Democratic socialist, Sanders galvanized progressives during a 2016 run for president when he lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton but popularized ideas such as Medicare for All, his proposal for a government-run healthcare plan based on the system for Americans over the age of 65.

He had been running in second place in the Democratic race behind Biden, the former vice president, until the last month, when a surge by fellow progressive and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren moved her ahead of Sanders in many polls.

The campaign halt comes the day after Sanders reported a big $25.3 million fundraising haul for the third quarter, putting him in the early lead in the closely watched campaign money race.

“Thinking of @BernieSanders today and wishing him a speedy recovery. If there’s one thing I know about him, he’s a fighter and I look forward to seeing him on the campaign trail soon,” Democratic 2020 rival Kamala Harris, a U.S. senator from California, said on Twitter.

A former mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Sanders won a U.S. House of Representatives seat in 1990, making him the first independent elected to the House in 40 years. In 2006, he won a U.S. Senate seat and in 2018 was voted in for a third six-year term.

REUTERS