"I figured I'd been given another chance. I sort of prayed that it would come out all right and prayed that if it didn't that my family would be all right, that my friends would be all right."
The former president recognized that the experience would be harder for his loved ones.
"They're sitting there watching, they feel powerless, there's nothing they can do. It's not hard for you, I mean, they put you under," he said.
Clinton's wife, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, said the experience was an emotional roller coaster.
The former president said: "If you really love somebody, if you know they're on the operating table and somebody's sawing their breastbone open, it's a helpless feeling and you just have to sit around and hope it'll be all right."
However, some heart surgery patients often feel a depression. Clinton suspected it occurs because "for many people, especially busy, active people, it's the first time they ever come face to face with their own mortality."
Clinton says he's never been "particularly morbid about death."
He pointed out that his father died before he was born. "From a much younger age than most people, I had an acquaintance with death. I knew it was a part of life," he said.
He said of the operation, "I don't think it ever held quite the terror for me it does for some people … I haven't had any depression since the surgery."