Surgery success can depend on clinic chosen

LOS ANGELES Joyce Hamm Sontag suffered a stroke right after she had heart bypass surgery. She never expected to have trouble walking five months later.

"I'm not leading a normal life now because of the stroke," said Sontag. "The cardiac part is fine, they tell me, but it's not because I can't drive. I can't work."

A heart bypass operation is major surgery and there can be big differences in the outcome. A Consumer Reports' analysis of 221 surgical groups found that complications rates range from a high of 30 percent to a low of six percent.

"Suffering a stroke is one of several potential complications from bypass surgery. There also is a risk of kidney failure, infection, and death. And sometimes a patient needs a repeat operation," said Dr. John Santa, director of Consumer Reports Health Rating Center.

Consumer Reports says before you agree to bypass surgery, it is important to do some research. Ask if the surgical group submits their results to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons National Database.

"Ninety percent of all cardiac surgical groups submit their results to the society," said Dr. Santa. "It provides the success rates for a number of important measures. That's data you want to know."

Bypass surgery data to ask about includes patient survival rate and the rate of complications.

"It's really surprising that this is the case that people research more the purchase of a car than a cardiac surgeon," said Sontag.

Whether doing more research would have prevented Sontag's stroke is unknown, but she does wish she had asked more questions before her bypass surgery.

Two of the three top groups are in Southern California. Consumer Reports gave top ratings to the Pomona Valley Cardiac Surgery Medical Group and the Orange County Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons Group.

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