Neil Armstrong’s Bypass Surgery

Neil Armstrong was an American Hero. He flew 78 combat missions in the Korean War, was a test pilot for new planes, was the commander for Apollo 11 and became the first man to walk on the face of the moon.

All of his accomplishments aside, it is his health history and the medical care he received which prompts me to write today. In 1991 at the age of 61, he suffered a heart attack while snow skiing in Colorado. He died in 2012 shortly after undergoing a heart bypass surgery in Cincinnati, Ohio. Seven years after his death, the New York Times published a detailed report about the confidential settlement of a wrongful death case brought on his behalf against his health care providers. You can read the NYT’s report here.

My Take: Armstrong received care from a local suburban hospital to treat serious heart disease. He, and his family, decided against going to an academic institution with highly experienced cardiologists, interns, and fellows specifically trained in cardiology. The doctors at the hospital chosen by Armstrong decided to perform immediate bypass surgery for a non-emergency situation…a situation which can often be managed with medications and lifestyle changes.

Temporary wires were placed in his heart to regulate heartbeats. The wires were later removed by a nurse.  While the wires were being removed, Armstrong’s heart started to bleed and his blood pressure dropped. He was taken to the hospital’s catheterization laboratory, rather than to an operating room. There the doctors drained blood from Armstrong’s heart and then moved him to an operating room. He died one week later.

We see smaller hospitals and even regional hospitals take on patients they have no business treating. Why? Because there is big money in providing complex medical care and young doctors are eager to learn how to perform the “next big thing” in medicine or surgery. My advice is to search for hospitals that have an established reputation in the medical procedure at issue. Having a “highly trained doctor” is important but make darn sure that doctor is also “highly experienced.”

Dan Frith

Dan Frith

Dan Frith has over 25 years of experience representing individuals and families in cases of medical malpractice throughout Virginia. He has been named "Best Medical Malpractice Attorney" by Roanoker Magazine and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To speak with Dan, contact him by email at dfrith@frithlawfirm.com.