Monday, April 13, 2009

Coronary bypass surgeon tells Sunday school that the surgery brings patients back to life

Easter Sunday morning, a Sunday School teacher who happens to be a cardiac surgeon who regular performs coronary bypass surgery taught the lesson. He may have been appropriate in bringing up the subject of raising the dead (in “miracles”) as a metaphor for eventual resurrection, because, as he explained, that is what happens in bypass surgery.

The patient’s body is cooled to about 18 degrees C (about 64 F) for two hours or so while the heart is stopped so that replacement coronary arteries can be grafted, usually from the legs, although it is likely in the future that they will be grown from stem cells. In this amount of time, when the heart is restarted and the patient warmed, his brain comes back up pretty much like a computer with a cold boot (think of waking from REM sleep as a warm boot).

However, he said, with waits of over three hours the possibility of permanent damage becomes very real.

He also indicated that some people relate to the typical "near death experiences" and then come back, despite drugs that destroy memory of the surgery.

He said that the oldest known bypass patient was 92, but it started to become more common to do them above age 80 about 15 years ago. But even in the early 1980s they had become common for people in their 60s and 70s. By father had an aorta aneurysm resection at age 74 in 1977, and even then the surgery was quite advanced.

There is a danger of stroke, especially with advanced age bypass, and quality of life in the long run, for the patient and family members, is still a big issue for medicine to deal with. More effort and money, especially when it comes from the expanding public sector like Medicare, needs to be spent on quality of years than just quantity, whatever the sentiments of people.

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