If you or a loved one have been confronted with the notion that an inoperable heart condition is threatening your life, you’ll find this article helpful in organizing your thoughts. There are many heart conditions that can affect your heart: coronary blockages, heart valve clogging or leaking, a weak heart muscle, an aneurysm, a tumor or a congenital heart problem. If your doctors told you it is an inoperable condition, do not give up. A second opinion could make all the difference in restoring your quality of life. New minimally invasive techniques, redo operation approaches, intensive care protocols have revolutionized a surgeon’s ability to help even the sickest patients. A successful high risk open heart operation can restore great quality of life in an otherwise hopeless case.
The main issue is that different parts of the country and different hospitals and doctors might have a higher level of expertise in treating your condition with good and reliable results. It is very important not to panic. Take a deep breath and organize your thoughts. There are many reasons why a surgeon or a cardiologist would use the word “inoperable” or “too high risk”. Sometimes it relates to the actual technical difficulty of the operation. Sometimes it has to do with other medical problems (bad lungs, kidneys, liver) that can increase the risk of open heart surgery. At times it is just about a strong bias related to advanced age. Many octagenarians can be successfully operated on with the same excellent outcomes of much younger patients and should not be denied the option to live many more years of a good life just because of their age.
Here is what to do:
- Ask both your medical doctor AND the surgeon to explain why your case is inoperable and write down all the details of his/her answer.
- Obtain a copy of all your diagnostic study images (CAT scan, left heart catheterization, echocardiogram, EKG) along with their written reports.
- Obtain all hospital reports, pertinent blood test results, other consultant opinions.
- While you are collecting your information, call another heart surgeon for a second opinion and describe your condition and reasons why you were told you are inoperable.
- Ask your doctors to communicate with your second opinion. Do not be shy about it. It is perfectly fine to question decisions that affect your life so much. Your doctors will be glad to discuss your case with another surgeon.
- Set up an appointment to see your second opinion in person for a physical exam and a detailed discussion about your options.
- This is your time to discuss the balance between risk and benefit related to an open heart operation. Keep this in mind: very often a surgical risk is way better than waiting for a miserable and earlier end of your life if nothing is done about your heart condition.
- Get your family or close friends involved in the discussion to help you and support you in your quest and decision.
- If your new surgeon feels a surgical option can help you, it is your time to go for it if it makes sense to you.
- Never, never, never give up!!