Merilyn took part in a randomised trial of different procedures for carrying out a heart bypass operation. She was in the group which had the new procedure.
Merilyn went to her GP because she was getting occasional chest pains. She was referred to her local hospital and then to a specialist hospital, where she was told she would need a heart operation, a coronary artery bypass graft. This came as a complete shock – apart from occasional chest pains she had not felt at all unwell or breathless, and had carried on working full-time. She was told the operation would be in 8-12 weeks time.
When Merilyn was admitted to hospital she was asked by a research nurse if she;d be willing to take part in a trial of different procedures for carrying out the operation. The operation was scheduled for the following day so there was little time to think about it, but she felt it all seemed straightforward and she was happy to take part. She got on well with the research nurse and thinks the way she communicated with her helped her feel confident about the trial. It was explained that in the standard procedure a vein is taken from the person’s leg or arm to use as part of the bypass graft. In the new procedure being tested, the surgeon uses an artery in the chest instead of the vein. Merilyn was told she would be allocated at random to one of these two procedures and would only know which when she woke up. She did not mind which group she was in, but thought it might be good to avoid having an additional scar on her leg or arm. A colleague had had a bypass and she had seen that he had quite a big scar on his leg, as well as a chest scar.
She discovered she was in the group having the new procedure. The operation was four years ago in 2004, and she feels very well, although it has taken her some time to get over the emotional shock of facing a life-threatening condition. Every year the research nurse rings her to ask some follow-up questions, particularly whether she has been smoking, and whether she has taken any time off work or visited the doctor. She is surprised they don’t ask her other lifestyle questions such as diet and weight. Merilyn has had quite intense pain and sensitivity around her chest scar, and is surprised this is not something that is followed up as part of the trial. She feels very conscious of the scar and wonders whether it is bigger and more painful than it would have been if she had had the standard procedure. She knows it is bigger than her colleague’s chest scar, but she also wonders whether being a woman affects how the surgery is done. She would have liked to meet other women who have had bypass surgery and talk to them about their experiences, but found the cardiac ward and cardiac rehabilitation programme very male-dominated.
Merliyn feels it has to be a personal decision whether to take part in a trial, but that medical progress can only be made if people volunteer to test new drugs and procedures.