20-4. Nonagenarian Notions: You’re never too old . . . for heart surgery

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I usually screen citations I get from Google Alert for “Nonagenarians” looking for items about playing bridge. The article cited below, however, hit home–I just may be a candidate for heart surgery one of these days and it was good news. Looks like you’re never too old for heart surgery.

My only ailment at 91 is a diagnosis of “mild stenosis of the aortic valve” discovered during a routine physical–no symptoms of the disease, except an increase in blood pressure for first time in my long life. And so I take a medicine for that. I assumed I’d just have to cross my fingers and hope it didn’t get worse (nothing much I can do about THAT) because would be ridiculous to do heart valve replacement on such an old lady.

Then, a bit over a year ago, my sister at 87 had heart surgery to replace her mitral valve. It took  time and therapy but a year later she is fine.  Back to her schedule, still driving–and she can drive at night!–doing pretty much what she’d done before. 

Now my Google Alert has unearthed an article, actually out of the U.K. but about heart surgery in America on nonagenarians. He tells of an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, 20 years ago, “Too Old for What?” rejoicing in an aortic valve replacement for an 87-year old woman who, after some complications, was able to “resume her previously active social schedule.” A decade later, 10 years ago, at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, surgeon Matthew Bachetta “raised the ante by operating on 42 nonagenarians.”

The article by James LeFanu of the Telegraph, sums it up: ” . . . the maximum operable age had risen by a decade, every decade, from 70 in the 1970s, to 80 in the 1980s, to 90 in the 1990s.”

Looks as if by the time I reach 100–if I do–there’d be someone out there willing to accept me as a candidate for heart surgery were my symptoms to become un-liveable-with. Amazing! 

Would I go for it? Depends on what kind of daily life I was experiencing by then. I don’t think I would, for instance, if I were in any kind of custodial care. Why not depart this planet with dignity and some grace.

Still living on my own and playing bridge a couple times a week?  I think I’d ask my daughter (she’s a physical therapist) for her in-put based on what she’s observed. And I’d ask my doctor, “What would you recommend if I were your mother?” Then maybe toss a coin. Then consider–can I do all the therapy, have I patience for the recovery period? Then choose.



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