To Immediately Have Open-Heart Surgery Or Not

By Warren Selkow, Patient and Survivor

Open Heart-Surgery Scandal in California

I think the year was 2002, but I could be wrong. The exact year is not so important. What are important are the generally known facts of the "incident", as it was reported. At the outset, please let me state I believe that most open-heart surgery is not an emergency. The patient is not going to go the great beyond (this is not a National Park) if there is a delay between diagnosis and surgery. If you are reading this because you or your loved one has been told open heart surgery is required, then immediately call a time out and do not sign any consent forms. Read the following three things before you allow the surgery to go forward:

  1. This feature
  2. The feature on this site entitled, "…And The Bad New Is…" Click here to read that feature.
  3. The Simplified Handbook for Living With Heart Disease and Other Chronic Diseases

Make sure you read the book before you go ahead with the surgery. What you will learn from that book will save you pain, grief, aggravation, anger, depression, stress and pain. It will also completely prepare both the patient and the caregiver for the surgery. The book is available only from Amazon. Click here to order. Now, back to the story of the scandal. It will become quickly clear why this story is so important.

"You are in bad shape. You must have open-heart surgery. We have to get you into the operating room. Sign here."

Those are the words a cardiologist/heart surgeon would say to a patient while doing an angiogram. The doctor would quietly whisper into the patients ear there were multiple blocks and the only real treatment was to open up the chest and do by pass surgery. This doctor got away with this for many years until a complaint was finally filed and the hospital was forced to investigate and publish the findings.

During the investigation, the staff finally ratted him out. The lawsuits are probably still going on. The doctor lost his license. I for one find this hard to believe that the doc was not ratted out sooner. However, considering the mathematics of the general health care system, I should not be surprised. Oh, by the way, this famous, prominent doctor had performed literally hundreds of non-emergency emergency open-heart surgeries.

The amount of pain, anguish and suffering he personally caused is almost incalculable. Yep, he was a doctor; you know the one who swore he would not cause harm. About the only thing that could be calculable is how much money he, the hospital, the hospital's staff and the others contributing to the upkeep and "welfare" of the patient was collected. Millions of dollars flushed down the drain. You can bet the insurance companies are complaining long and hard as they settle the malpractice suits.

Now that we have finished that rant, lets us take a more moderate approach to the problem at hand: To immediately have open-heart surgery or not.

Open heart surgery as the avenue of last resort

In my case, open-heart surgery was the avenue of only resort. I had four completely blocked veins, two failed valves, an aortic aneurism the size of a golf ball and a partridge in a pear tree. With all this, I was not rushed into the operating theater. There was a two-week delay until the surgeons schedule opened up. The second surgery was delayed for three weeks while, you guessed it, the surgeons schedule opened up. I had a special complication for the second surgery. My mitral valve was leaking blood back into my heart and my heart was rapidly expanding in size. Even with all of this, the surgery was delayed.

There is a big difference between an emergency situation and an urgent situation. Mine was an urgent situation. Consider if mine were an urgent situation, what would qualify for an emergency situation? As it turned out, the reason I was not rushed into surgery was so my condition could be made more stabile. At least that was the case for the first operation. In retrospect it is apparent the docs wanted to make sure I would survive that first surgery, however they were concerned the aneurism could literally explode before the surgery could be performed.

How sick are you really?

A good question to ask might be, "Why is this surgeon so suddenly available?" Here is a list of questions you might want to ask before the surgery is performed:

  1. What are the surgeons qualifications
  2. How many of these operations has the surgeon performed
  3. What is the long term success ratio
  4. What are the qualifications of the hospital where the surgery is to be done
  5. What is the hospitals' long term success ratio
  6. How many of these operations has the hospital hosted
  7. What is the success rate of both the hospital and the surgeon (this question addresses the immediate concern of the patient going home while questions 3 and 5 address survival rates greater than one year)
  8. Where can you get a second opinion

Open-heart surgery is about the most invasive procedure there is. It takes anywhere from three months to six months to get over the surgery depending on the physical condition of the patient. The first six weeks after the surgery are hell on wheels without the wheels.

In my opinion, the need for revenue on the part of the hospital and the surgeon is the motivator to drive up the number of emergency open-heart surgeries. The facilitator is to play on the fear in the patient and family. Take a system that is compensated for procedures and tests and not compensated for outcomes and long term wellness, add in the need to make as much money as possible to cover all the overheads of the hospital plant and staff, through in a major dose of fear and you get emergency heart surgeries. I will take on anyone on this subject.

Immediate open-heart surgery or not?

Do not misinterpret the intent of this feature. I am not suggesting you or your loved one does not have the surgery. I am suggesting you take a time out and allow for the preparation to be done. Open-heart surgery is a lifesaver. The surgery has saved my life twice. The slight delay and careful preparation will make everything go easier and better.

Good luck and don't worry.

The Simplified Handbook for
Living with Heart Disease
and Other Chronic Diseases

This comprehensive, doctor reviewed and approved book explains heart disease from a patientís perspective. Without complicated medical mumbo-jumbo, this blunt and hilarious book is a total lifesaver.