Grey’s Anatomy Mishandles Heart Valve Surgery

By Adam Pick on January 25, 2010

My wife, Robyn, loves the television show Grey’s Anatomy.

That said, on Thursday nights, after Ethan goes to bed, we enjoy watching the trials-and-tribulations of the fictitious Seattle Grace Hospital.



I will admit, the writers of Grey’s Anatomy do a great job developing likable characters (Meredith, McDreamy, The Chief) that are caught in a perpetual whirlwind of personal, professional and medical drama.

However, I want to gently remind us all that Grey’s Anatomy is, to some extent, written and produced to garner ratings and large advertising budgets.

“Why the heck is Adam posting about Grey’s Anatomy?” you might be wondering.

Well, in a recent episode, one of the stories within the hour-long show was about a female patient, late-40s, who needed… Yes, you guessed it… Heart valve replacement surgery.

While Robyn and I were initially excited to watch this patient story develop, we quickly became disappointed. Instead of depicting an accurate account of heart valve surgery, the writers used the heart valve replacement procedure to conjure drama in the form of comedy and horror.

First, there was the comedy… The writers portrayed the patient as silly as she debated the pros-and-cons of using a mechanical valve replacement, a pig valve replacement and a cow valve replacement.

Then, came the horror… The patient almost died in the operating room due to a personal issue / love triangle amongst three staff surgeons.

I could go on-and-on-and-on about how unrealistic this episode of Grey’s Anatomy was. But, I won’t. (If you like, you can watch the entire episode online and judge for yourself.)

However, I can’t stop thinking about the patients who watched the show and might be thinking, “Yikes! I’m not having surgery after seeing all that craziness!” I mean… Can you imagine if you were scheduled for surgery and happened to be a Grey’s Anatomy fan?

It’s for this reason, that I want to gently remind us of the known fact that Grey’s Anatomy is just a television show. And, when it comes to heart valve surgery… rather unrealistic.

The reality is that heart valve surgery is a medical miracle. Yes, there is some risk. But, for most, the reality is that patients live longer, healthier lives following the procedure.

Keep on tickin!

Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick, Heart Valve Patient Advocate

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

lislepammysue says on January 25th, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Grey’s Anatomy is just that — a TV show, to entertain not enlighten. BUT I still would want Christina to do the job — if I were part of the cast. Get REAL people.

Tom Farrell says on January 25th, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Health care professionals love to watch and point out inaccuracies in dramatic tv programs; it’s very common. Bottom line: don’t believe (just about) anything you hear or see on tv!
Tom (St. Jude, mitral position, 14 years)

Goodsport says on January 25th, 2010 at 3:45 pm

The wife watches that crap and I’ve caught enough going in and out of the room to realize that the producers should be sued for theatrical malpractice.

If the scripts are discouraging needy patients from seeking legitimate help, the show is doing a disservice to the medical community.

If I knew there was that much screwing around at my hospital, I’d find someplace else to go. So much for trash TV.

Robin Hirsch says on January 25th, 2010 at 4:31 pm

As a tv cameraman I have had many experiences shooting nonsense under the guise of reality or entertainment. A medical show though carries a certain responsibility for accuracy. I would urge you to contact the producers, network, and sponsors and raise an objection. You are absolutely right. Watching a show like that could easily discourage surgery in someone who desperately needs it and potentially cost lives. All in the name of entertainment….disgusting.

jerry says on January 25th, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Can you clarify a bit? Why did they portray her debate as silly, and did they offer some sort of choice of their own?

And I agree with you that all too often tv shows get the details way wrong, but sometimes they do do a good thing. Way way back when, we saw Jack Klugman use Quincy MD to lobby for funding of orphan drugs, and in my family, that was a very good thing indeed.

Amy Machtay says on January 25th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Thank you for speaking up. I didn’t see this episode, but this report doesn’t surprise me. I was a fan of the show for awhile, but the over-dramatization of essentially everything in life was just a little too much for me. The writers and producers can’t hold a candle to Michael Creighton and ER.

Lisa says on January 25th, 2010 at 7:39 pm

As an RN and heart valve patient, most anything medical in the movies and on TV is blatantly inaccurate. It drives me crazy. Cardiology is a real sticking point, I usually end up screaming at the screen at the stupidity of their actions. Alas, they are just looking for drama, a good story, and to make money. If it were real life the mortality rate would be very high for on screen patients. I do my best to avoid watching “medical shows”.

Don Henry says on January 25th, 2010 at 10:52 pm

My wife watches Grey’s Anatomy, but it is so unrealistic and stupid I cannot watch it. Can you imagine being operated on by any of those clowns , who play surgeons? Let’s get real folks.

Midge says on January 25th, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Hey, everybody, let’s lighten up. This is a TV show and is meant to entertain, not inform. Is your love life guided by the daytime soap operas? Of course not, and your medical decisions shouldn’t be guided by what you see on medical TV programs…it’s about drama, not reality. There are some programs on TV that are meant to be more realistic and informative, but most of them are identified as such. I love Grey’s but know it for what it is–really stupid entertainment and sometimes that is just what I want.


Don Henry says on January 26th, 2010 at 10:33 am

To Midge: My wife agrees with you; however it is hard for me to watch surgeons in an operating room talking about their exploits that week while a serious surgery is happening. The only conversation should be about the surgery. I don’t find it funny or entertaining when it comes to any kind of surgery, even if this is a TV show and they are actors. It would be much better if the funny stuff about their love lives etc were in a bar or somewhere else and out of OR and then I would consider it entertaining. I don’t see much drama is this show. It certainly doesn’t depict surgeons well. I did not see the episode about the AVR, thank GOD.

Cindy says on January 26th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Last year as SOON as I knew I would be having heart surgery I refused to watch ANY “medical” shows … So from Oct. until surgery in Feb. I just left the room if any were on!! They all have WAY too much blood gushing for me anyway.

Mary Anne says on January 26th, 2010 at 8:32 pm

I Love Gray’s Anatomy – but was also disturbed by the botched surgery. I had Aortic vavle replacement in June – my husband had Mitral valve replacement in November. So, I was glad that I knew better – that was not the way things happened. If it had been a year ago when I was debating which valve to choose and was scared to death of the words “open heart surgery”, I know it would have scared me in the state of mind I was in. I know it is just a TV show, but they should show more thought as to how their audience can be affected by the subject matter. Seeing that episode may make a person who is weighing the options think twice about making the right choice – Mary Anne

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