August 10, 2013

When health care may have a prayer

Some doctors and patients see a good-faith union of medical science and spirituality.

By MARC RAMIREZ The Dallas Morning News

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Dr. Mark Pool and patient Carl Smith are all smiles following successful bypass surgery at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas – an delicate operation preceded and followed by prayer.

Mona Reeder/ The Dallas Morning News

"I ask you to watch over our team, that you give us all clarity of thought, that you guide my hands as they move. We pray these things in Christ's name. Amen."

"Amen," Smith says.

Later, as Smith's family awaits the outcome, his wife says: "I have never had a doctor do that. It just meant so much to us. We just thought it was sent from God."

At 6:45 a.m., Pool starts in, using a tiny electric saw to patiently work through Smith's chest and breastbone.

The arteries he wants dangle inside like strings of soaked twine above Smith's quivering lungs. He snips one end of each, then applies small plastic clamps to stop the thin spurt of blood.


"See that?" he says. "That's the blood flow that will be going into the heart."

A shot of potassium literally stops Smith's heart cold, temporarily abdicating its work to a heart and lung machine. To the heart, Pool will divert the snipped arteries, and repurpose a vein taken from Smith's leg, to offset the blockages within.

But first he has to open the heart's protective sac, unveiling the still-beating organ as it heaves inside. Pool eases it to one side, to reach a portion underneath -- and in that moment, Smith's heart, the force pumping blood and oxygen throughout his body, rests in Pool's cradling grip.

Out in the family waiting area, Smith's son Scott says: "God has his hand on everything. He's in control."

Pool initially wondered if his praying might give patients pause, whether they'd worry he wasn't confident enough in his own skills.

"It's been the opposite," he says. "They value the humility."

Smith's operation was a success. Six weeks later, Pool meets with him one last time.

"You're doing extremely well," Pool says. "I'm going to fade away now."

"I'd be 6 feet under if it wasn't for you," Smith says.

Pool dismisses the thought. "I'd like to say a prayer with you," he says.

Smith bows his head .

"Lord," Pool begins, "thank you for getting Mr. Smith out of the hospital and getting him home. We ask that you continue that process of healing and give him a spring in his step once again. In Jesus' name we pray."

Smith is upbeat. He believes the gesture will help him get better. And in the end, that might be the most important factor of all.


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