How can I convince my father to have coronary bypass surgery?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My 72-year-old father had a heart attack, and an angiogram showed that he needs bypass surgery as soon as possible. But he just won't do it. He says that he's sure he won't be the same person he is now, that his life will never be the same. If he doesn't have the surgery, the doctor says he'll probably die. What can we do to convince him to have the operation?

Expert Answer

Dr. Mary Whooley studies the connection between depression and cardiac outcomes at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and UCSF.

It’s understandable that you want your father to have the surgery. Bypass surgery can definitely extend the lives of some patients with heart disease. However, surgery also has its own dangers, so patients must weigh the risks and benefits for themselves. If your father says he'll never be the same person, he probably won't be. People who go through this kind of procedure really do need to believe that the surgery will help.

You could try helping your father get more information about the operation, or have him talk to other patients who have had bypass surgery. However, I don't think your father should have a bypass just because his family thinks he should. I don't know the details of your father's heart disease, but some patients can live a long time with very bad hearts. Having a bypass is a big risk, and cognitive changes can occur after surgery. If your father really feels that he doesn't want the operation, it's his decision.