Written by SMH Senior Communications Editor Kim Savage
Finding out you have a leaking heart valve or blocked coronary arteries can be frightening—especially if your only option to correct the problem is cardiac surgery.
But what if you’re uncomfortable with the diagnosis or have been told your condition is too fragile for a less-invasive surgical approach?
That was the case for Sarasota attorney Charlie Ann Syprett, an avid runner who last year began feeling weak and short-of-breath after just a brisk walk.
She was diagnosed with a severely damaged mitral valve and referred to a surgeon in New York to replace her diseased valve with an artificial one. She was told she wasn’t a candidate for a less-invasive valve repair.
Syprett wasn’t comfortable with that direction, and after asking the advice of other medical professionals, she scheduled a second consult with Dr. Jonathan Hoffberger. Dr. Hoffberger, the director of minimally invasive cardiac surgery at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, has made minimally invasive valve repair his practice specialty for more than 15 years.
Dr. Hoffberger was not only able to repair her valve, but also perform the complex surgery through a small incision on her side, rather than the traditional eight- to 12-inch incision down the middle of her chest and breastbone.
“The days of sitting back and blindly going wherever you’re told are long gone,” said Syprett. “These days, we are equal partners in the decision- making process. If you are not comfortable with a doctor’s assessment or recommendation, it’s up to you to be proactive and seek a second opinion. I can tell you that it can be life changing.”
Whether your heart condition is potentially life threatening or far less serious, a second opinion ensures you are on the best path to optimal health—and peace of mind.
For Syprett, the less invasive surgical approach was important because it lowered her risk of complications, including stroke and infection, and dramatically reduced her recovery time, cutting it by more than half.
And repairing her mitral valve, rather than replacing it with an artificial one, offered greater protection to her heart function in the future, while eliminating the need for blood thinners and other medications often needed with artificial valves.
“Valve repair can be more tricky, but it’s usually the better option for those who are candidates,” Dr. Hoffberger said. “Because of how damaged her valve was, a lot of surgeons would have just replaced it. But a more experienced surgeon usually can offer an alternative choice.”
Seeking a Second Opinion
While some people may be nervous about getting a second opinion, they shouldn’t be, said Dr. Jeffrey Sell, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Sarasota Memorial.
Physicians understand that their diagnosis can be life-changing and that prescribed treatments can be expensive and risky. Many will encourage second opinions, especially when it involves a major operation such as heart valve replacement.
“A surgeon who is confident in their diagnosis will welcome a second opinion, because it usually will validate their assessment and recommendation,” Dr. Sell said.
Talking with your first doctor is important because it helps ensure your records are shared with the consulting physician and other providers overseeing your care.
Also, be sure to check with your insurance provider to be sure that a second visit is covered. While many insurance companies consider second opinions routine in non-emergency situations, they might require a referral from your primary care physician. Medicare covers a second opinion in non-emergency surgeries, and even a third opinion, if the first and second differ.
When choosing a second-opinion doctor, consider a physician’s experience with the condition or procedure at issue. It’s also important to evaluate the quality of the hospital where a procedure may be performed. Some programs have more established and experienced surgical teams and a wider range of subspecialists.
How SMH Rates
Sarasota Memorial’s experienced cardiac surgery team has performed thousands of minimally invasive and robotic procedures, and offers superior clinical outcomes on even the most challenging cases. Its national reputation for quality and safety offers added peace of mind.
The team’s recognition and honors include:
- Nationally recognized Cardiac Surgery team
- Truven Top 50 Hospital for Cardiology
- Rated “A” for Patient Safety by the Leapfrog Group
- CMS 5-Star Hospital for Quality & Safety (SMH only hospital in Florida, top 2% in nation)
- Society of Thoracic Surgeons’ highest 3-Star ratings for aortic valve replacement (AVR), coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) and AVR combined with CABG surgery (only hospital in Florida and one of just 11 nationwide to have the top ratings in those publically reported categories).
If you would like more information about SMH’s cardiac surgery program, visit smhheart.com. Or call Sarasota Memorial’s physician referral line at (941) 917-7777.