Heart Surgery Without Blood Transfusion
ON NOVEMBER 22, 1963, the stunned world was mourning the death of the United States president. Little did we realize that before the day was over our own family would be numb with shock.
In the middle of the night Peter, our youngest—who was seven years old—came screaming into our bedroom. “Mum, the floor is rolling. It is coming up to meet me.”
His breath seemed to be coming in short gasps. I picked him up and carried him to the kitchen. I was sure he was delirious so I frantically sponged him off with cool water and gave him a child’s aspirin and tried to comfort him.
At 7 a.m. I phoned our family doctor. When he arrived he checked Peter, and his face grew grave. Abruptly he asked, “How long has his heart been like this?”
“Like what?” I asked.
He explained that Peter had a very bad heart murmur. He was sure it was a defective valve. After many questions, the doctor decided that Peter was born with the defect, that it was congenital. We were astounded, for Peter had apparently been such a healthy baby.
We asked: “Is surgery possible for this?” “Yes, I think it is,” answered the doctor, but added: “It won’t be possible with your belief.”
We nodded, unable to talk. We are Jehovah’s witnesses and we do not take blood transfusions because we believe that taking blood is against God’s law that specifically says, “Abstain . . . from blood.”—Acts 15:20, 29.
“Bring him to the office on Friday for a cardiogram. I want to make sure,” the doctor said as he was leaving.
This visit only confirmed our doctor’s suspicion that Peter had an obstruction that restricted the flow of blood to the lungs; pulmonary stenosis it is called. However, he arranged an appointment with a specialist for another opinion and X rays.
The specialist was through with his examination in only a few minutes. Telling Peter to dress himself, he called me into the outer office.
“This boy is going to die without surgery,” he said.
When I had opportunity, I suggested: “Perhaps this operation can be done without blood. There are substitutes.”
“No,” he stated emphatically. “It is absolutely impossible. I know what I am talking about.”
“Doctor,” I pleaded, “I realize that you sincerely think you are right. But please take Peter in for X rays.”
“I’ll take him, but it is a waste of time.” Taking Peter’s hand, he walked down the hall to the X-ray department.
In a few days our family doctor gave us the report of the X rays. They confirmed his own diagnosis. Now we had to find out what could be done. We searched the library for information on heart disease and modern methods of surgery but found nothing.
Then one day we found the answer! It was in the September 1, 1963, Watchtower magazine in the very short article entitled “Heart Surgery Without Blood Transfusion.” It explained how a new type of heart-lung apparatus was primed with dextrose and water instead of blood. Also mentioned were 200 open-heart operations performed by University of Minnesota doctors without blood transfusions.
How excited we were! I could not get to the doctor’s office fast enough. Quickly I explained about the article we had found and gave it to him to read. After reading it, he said: “Yes, that is reliable information. I myself know the University of Minnesota well. If they are doing this there, it certainly can be done. Now to find a doctor who will do it here in Canada.” He told me he would do his best to find someone.
A few days later we learned of a friend who had had a stroke and as a result the valves of her heart had been damaged. A famous surgeon of Toronto, Canada, had operated without blood transfusion. We phoned our doctor and told him about this. He was very pleased, and said that he would arrange an appointment immediately.
The day for Peter’s appointment in Toronto arrived and we were in the doctor’s office waiting for the verdict. He verified our own doctor’s diagnosis, that Peter had very severe pulmonary stenosis—as a result the heart was badly enlarged.
The doctor then excused himself to phone a well-known child’s surgeon at Sick Children’s Hospital. When the door reopened, his face was beaming. He said: “Dr. T—— will fix you up. I have explained your situation. You are to go directly to the hospital and wait in the lobby. He will see you.”
This we did. When the doctor arrived he was very kind. He said that he understood our problem and that it was true that these new methods of surgery were very effective. He assured us that he would use a “blood substitute” if it were necessary. We agreed to have him proceed with arrangements for surgery. How thankful we were!
In a few days we received notice that Peter was to be admitted to Sick Children’s Hospital on April 15. During his first week there he was given tests and thoroughly checked. Before the operation, scheduled for April 22, Dr. T—— thoughtfully explained to Peter just how he was going to fix him up. He told him not to worry when he woke up and saw all the tubes—this was not blood that he was being fed.
On the morning of the operation Peter was not allowed to eat or drink anything. Then, about two o’clock, the phone rang. It was the floor nurse telling me to bring him down. As he was wheeled away we exchanged big smiles—he was confident that he was going to be okay.
At 7:30 p.m. I was called to the office of Dr. T——. “Your boy is fine.” The other words were only a blur, but later it was explained to me this way: The valve had been so badly fused that it had been necessary to cut part of it away and make a new one out of what remained. Time alone would tell how successful the operation had been.
Peter made a remarkable recovery. Two weeks later he was ready to go home. In two weeks more he was back in school. Six months later his first checkup revealed that his heart was going down to normal size and the valve was working efficiently. A year later the news was marvelous! The heart was normal size. Now Peter leads a normal, active life.
We are most grateful to our family doctor and the other conscientious doctors who respected our belief in the sanctity of blood and cooperated with us in making the operation possible.—Contributed.