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It was tax season, so Myrna Hershman was far too busy with her temporary work in a St. Louis accounting firm to find out what was causing her chest pain. It had been coming and going for more than six months. Yet a silent alarm was ringing in her head since she had a strong family history of heart disease. Her father died of heart disease at 46. Her brother had a bypass operation at age 48.
Finally, at the end of April 2004, at age 66, Hershman saw her doctor for a stress test and angiogram. Her suspicion of heart disease was confirmed. She had a blockage in an artery. A heart surgeon at another St. Louis area hospital recommended a single heart bypass operation. He said she had an aneurysm under the blockage so she needed surgery rather than a less invasive cardiac catheterization to insert a stent to prop open the artery.
With her typical energy and tenacity, Hershman decided to learn as much as she could about bypass surgery and other possible treatment options. At the library, she discovered a minimally invasive bypass surgery was available that doesn't require cracking the chest bone. Instead, the surgeon works from under the breast for minimal scarring.
"I guess I'm vain — everything else on the body is going but I didn't want a scar going down my chest," she says wryly.
But Hershman's surgeon told her she wasn't a candidate for minimally invasive surgery because her arteries and heart were too small. He also told her no one in St. Louis performed minimally invasive bypass surgery. "I accepted this at face value," Hershman says. "But when I came home from the doctor's office, Barnes-Jewish Hospital's To Your Health! newsletter was in my mailbox. Right on the front cover it said if you're told you need heart surgery, call for a second opinion. So I did."
After talking with a nurse coordinator in the Heart 2nd Opinion Program, Hershman sent a DVD of her angiogram for a Washington University heart surgeon to review at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. He confirmed she needed single bypass surgery. Since she didn't think anyone in St. Louis performed the procedure minimally invasively, she didn't bother asking if she was a candidate for that procedure. Instead she just planned to go back to her original heart surgeon for the standard bypass operation.
But Hershman's husband prodded her to at least call back the Heart 2nd Opinion Program to ask. As a result, she was scheduled for an appointment with Ralph Damiano, MD, chief of cardiac surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, who determined she actually was a good candidate for minimally invasive surgery.
With that good news, Hershman had surgery with Dr. Damiano and today is pain free. She continues to be an active volunteer with the Opera Guild of St. Louis, Senior Olympics, Life Skills and the Jewish Community Center.
"I recommend this minimally invasive surgery to anyone able to have it," Hershman says. "It's wonderful with little pain. The 2nd Opinion Program was a godsend. It gave me the confidence to do something different and have something my original doctor said I couldn't have. The process to get a second opinion was very easy. They were very accommodating.
"You have to take your health into your own hands. Doctors expect you to get a second opinion for something major, even if it's just for confirmation. In science, there aren't always easy answers. If you have to drive an extra 20 minutes to get the best care, do it."