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CURRICULUM IN CARDIOLOGY - BOOK CLUB
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 53-54

Fragile lives: A heart surgeon's stories of life and death on the operating table


Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK

Date of Web Publication4-May-2018

Correspondence Address:
Raghav Bhargava
Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff
UK
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/jpcs.jpcs_7_18

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How to cite this article:
Bhargava R. Fragile lives: A heart surgeon's stories of life and death on the operating table. J Pract Cardiovasc Sci 2018;4:53-4

How to cite this URL:
Bhargava R. Fragile lives: A heart surgeon's stories of life and death on the operating table. J Pract Cardiovasc Sci [serial online] 2018 [cited 2022 Aug 8];4:53-4. Available from: https://www.j-pcs.org/text.asp?2018/4/1/53/231938


Author : Professor Stephen Westaby
Language : English
Published by : Harper Collins (15 October 2017)
Price : INR 570
Pages : 320 pages
ISBN-10 : 0008196761
ISBN-13 : 978-0008196769

It starts as a scalpel incision, through the skin from the base of the neck to the lower end of the breast bone. Then follows the burning smell of electrocautery singeing the layer of fat down to the bone. Then the electric saw buzzing through the chest bone. After that, using retractors to spread the ribs apart, the heart is exposed, the most vital organ in the body and always a severely diseased one. Where one mistake can be the difference between life and death. Welcome to cardiac surgery!

This book follows Professor Westaby's 35-year career as a cardiac surgeon. From humble beginnings to a pioneer in the field of assist devices for supporting the heart. It charts the advancements in cardiac surgery and also highlights some of his most challenging cases.

The novel starts with a personal account of the author's grandfather suffering from end-stage heart failure. Breathless at rest, belly bulged with fluid and severely swollen legs. The inspiration for his passion to operate ailing hearts. Learning from the doyens in heart surgery in America and Britain, he recounts the hours spent in the hospital operating and in case anything interesting came up, not to miss it and to cultivate the mental attitude of detachment; leaving no room for any sentiments in the theatre.

Each case mentioned in the book is fascinating in its own way and ends with lifesaving or ingenious surgery. But sometimes, the end result is devastating. However, every case is a learning experience. That is the determinism Westaby portrays.

The author details some of his most remarkable cases such as the girl who required an external heart pump support for viral myocarditis or the lady who had multiple operations for extremely rare tumors in her heart. He invented the Westaby tube for a man airlifted after a blast with scalded linings of his bronchial tree. Apart from operating on small babies with congenital heart defects, he also illuminates the reader on the complexities of operating on pregnant women, where two lives are at stake.

He discusses the illustrious history of circulatory support technology and the heart–lung machine to which he has contributed. An extremely confident surgeon, he also mentions his regrets of not spending enough time with his family and the distress he caused by not always being there.

This is an intensely honest book which illustrates that even in the face of disappointment and discouragement, innovation and experimentation can flourish. It lays an emphasis of sincerity toward the patient, however grim the outlook. As false expectations is the worst kind of expectations to have.

A profession with a steep learning curve which is measured in human lives. This memoir is a must read for all aspiring and practicing heart surgeons, and for everyone else to understand what happens behind operation theatre doors.

The book is perhaps best summarized by the author himself:

“Heart surgery may be an everyday occurrence for me, but for the patient and their relatives it's once a lifetime and absolutely terrifying. Treat them kindly.”

It is a thought-provoking read, where Westaby takes you through the highs and lows of heart surgery. From heartbreaking cases, to the hardships of training, to blazing a trail and making unprecedented progress in cardiac surgery.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.




 

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