EXCLUSIVE: The Story Behind Cheney's Heart Transplant Surgery

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Dick Cheney was sound asleep when the phone rang after midnight on Friday.

It was a call from the cardiology department at Inova Fairfax Hospital; he was told to come to the hospital quickly - a donor heart was likely to become available within hours.

"His response was to say, 'Sure. What time?  Let's go,'" said Dr. Jon Reiner, Cheney's cardiologist who accompanied Cheney for the surgery, which was performed by Fairfax cardiologists Alan Speir and Anthony Rongione.

About an hour later, Cheney was at the hospital preparing for heart transplant surgery.  The surgery, which started at 10am Saturday was over by 5pm, about 17 hours after Cheney received his wake-up call from the hospital.

"The surgery went flawlessly," Dr. Reiner told ABC News. "It exceeded expectations."

Cheney is still in intensive care, but Dr. Reiner said his recovering has been "dramatic" and that Cheney is doing "remarkably well, amazingly well" and was already out of his hospital bed and sitting in a chair Monday morning.

"The organ has functioned terrifically.  There can still be challenges, but so far, so good," Dr. Reiner said.  "So far so very good."

If recovery continues without significant setback, Dr. Reiner says Cheney's prognosis is "excellent" and  that he could live "many, many years" with his new heart.

"If you ask is it reasonable for a patient, like this patient, to consider 10 years, yes, I think that's reasonable," Dr. Reiner said.  "And good quality life."

Cheney first went on a donor heart wait list in June 2010, but didn't make a final decision about a transplant until a few weeks ago when he was told he had moved up on the list to the point where a donor heart was likely to come soon.

"It is not an easy decision to make," Dr. Reiner said. "The decision to have surgery is like going all-in in a poker game. There's great reward, but there's also great risk."

Dr. Reiner described Cheney as both "excited" and "calm" going into the surgery, adding, "He was ready."

"When the time came, there was no equivocation, no wait a little while, and let's think about it. It was let's go," Reiner said.

Cheney's wait for a donor heart was nearly 21 months - considerably longer than average wait.  His doctor says it is impossible to get preferential treatment and that Cheney was adamant, in any case, that he would wait his turn.

"It is impossible for a patient to get special consideration," Dr. Reiner said.  "And, I'll tell you, he made it explicitly clear that he was going to wait his turn."