Love Your Heart: When heart surgery is not the right choice

Love Your Heart: When is heart surgery the right choice
Published: Nov. 15, 2017 at 4:04 PM CST|Updated: May. 17, 2018 at 10:44 AM CDT
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SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - When something goes wrong with your heart, many think the fix is surgery, but, sometimes when a person gets older, they cannot physically have one.

The first thing a doctor looks at in any heart surgery is if your body can handle it. Dr. David Hamm is a heart surgeon with Willis-Knighton.

"Heart surgery is hard on people. To do it without adding value is foolish. It's inhumane. So we just want to make sure we're helping," said Dr. Hamm.

Some of the things doctors do to see if a patient is too frail: having the patient stand up and down quickly, lift weights and walk a short distance. If they have difficulty with those, they are likely not a good candidate for heart surgery.

For Dr. Hamm, this topic is personal.

"My father had heart surgery, he was in a hospital for three months and was on a ventilator and died. It was miserable. Had I known that we would never have had heart surgery," said Dr. Hamm.

He uses his own experience to help others.

"Predict those people who are going to act like my father, and have a bad outcome. And that's who we're trying to not operate on because we're not going to help them," said Dr. Hamm.

Doctors consider many different factors before heart surgery, age and health are a few.

"What we've found, is that patients who are particularly frail, have an additional risk for trouble with surgery," said Dr. Frederick White, a Willis-Knighton cardiologist.

"If they don't pass those frailty tests, the chances of them getting through surgery aren't very good. So more and more as we see in older patients, even younger patients that are very sick, we're looking at whether we can get them through and add value to their life," said Dr. Hamm.

Doctors say it's a more common question when to perform a risky surgery on an elderly patient. That's because humans are typically living longer, more productive lives than generations before.

"We'll see people once or twice a month, who you say you know, 'we're not going to help you' you need to slow your life down," Dr. Hamm said. "There are always options for every operation, potential operation. Doing it with medical therapy, sometimes just kind of piecemeal it with a stint. Not completely fixing everything, but making life better with lower risk."

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