Letters: Questions you must ask before undergoing heart surgery

Questions you must ask before undergoing heart surgery

“I am a subscriber and want to tell you I like your ‘smiling face.’

For years I have had a heart problem and, by the way, I am 94 years old. I went to a cardiologist recently for an annual evaluation of my condition. I was given a quick EKG and was advised that the heart wasn’t the problem but that one of my heart valves is deteriorating and is closing up rapidly-which will be the cause of my death.

I read all your reports with interest but not in any of them do you mention anything about valves. My doctor wants to replace my malfunctioning valve with a pig valve.

So, Dr. Douglass, I’m coming to you for help and another opinion. Is there an alternative method for correcting my problem so as to avoid surgery? I value your opinion and would appreciate hearing from you.”
-M.V., Seal Beach, CA

A. I have always been proud of the fact that I have intelligent readers who ask questions and are not intimidated by doctors. But in order to answer your question, I must ask YOU some questions. My “smiling face” is not smiling at the thought of you having this surgery.

Are your symptoms from your faulty valve–which has probably been damaged from childhood by rheumatic fever, or was deformed at birth–getting worse? Do you even have any symptoms, such as shortness of breath, swelling of the legs, lack of mental acuity (which, from your letter, doesn’t seem like a problem to me), or fainting spells?

I cannot criticize your doctors, since I don’t know your case. If they have evidence that the heart valve is “rapidly closing,” then you need the surgery. But how have they come to that conclusion?

Thank you for your thoughtful and complimentary letter. Please keep in touch and let me know about the surgery-I am sure you will make the right decision.