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Heart surgery landed me on insurance companies' death row

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God bless you.

On Feb. 14, 2001, I ignorantly made a decision that helped save my life but also

killed me, at the same time, in terms of new insurance coverage.

I elected to undergo a triple bypass where University of Chicago hospital cardiac

surgeon Dr. Valluvan Jeevanandam surgically rerouted grafted blood vessels around a

50 percent blockage of my main left artery.

Once I did that, neither my current life insurance carriers nor new carriers, offering

better plans, would sign me up for new coverage. I am now locked into the policies

presently in my possession. Their premiums are rising each year. Carriers offering

10-year, 15-year or similar longer-term fixed rates for new coverage refuse to sell me a

policy because their calculations tell them I have a better chance of dying much sooner

than later. Yes, insurance companies play the percentages. While heart surgery alone

made it much, much more difficult for me to get life insurance coverage, my brain cancer

and prostate cancer exacerbated things by making it pretty much impossible to get

good, affordable coverage.

So please learn from my experiences. Upgrade your life insurance policies before

you have a serious operation or you won't be able to do so once you have that operation.

Usually, patients are advised to undergo bypass surgery when there is a blockage of

a minimum of 90 percent or when one has suffered a heart attack or has shown signs of

other such life-threatening conditions. I had not, and still have not, suffered any heart

attack or even angina.

UCMC doctors recommended I undergo the bypass because I had an enlarged

heart from suffering years of high blood pressure and because the 50 percent blockage

was positioned just before a point where that main left artery broke off into several

smaller arteries that drape and provide life-sustaining blood to the heart.

An angioplasty, where that blockage would have been stinted, could have been an

equally effective and less-damaging procedure. But because my oldest sister, Mrs. Maude

Lee Burrell, at that time had been a patient for five months in the famed Cleveland Clinic

awaiting an heart transplant. I panicked and over-reacted by choosing to undergo the

triple bypass as soon as possible.

While there were some costly mistakes in the operations overall (three broken ribs,

being sawed open off-line and failure to stabilize my sternum with experimental titanium

plates), the grafting phase of it was a success. It improved my health and gave me

a much better chance of living longer. But it killed me in terms of getting new coverage.

If I knew then what I know now, I not only would have opted for the angioplasty, I

would have gotten new life insurance coverage with cheaper fixed premiums long before

I even got the angioplasty.

It would have been nice if the surgeons and cardiologists would have warned me of

how surgery would make me un-insurable or make potential new carriers charge me

exorbitant rates. But that's not their job. They are neither insurance agents, nor financial

advisers, nor investment brokers. They are doctors, whose primary, and, often, only

concern is to improve my physical health, not promote my financial betterment or help

my insurability.

So, please beware. If you are thinking of undergoing heart surgery or cancer

diagnosis any time in the near future, make sure beforehand that you have life and

medical insurance policies that offer you outstanding longterm coverage at the best

affordable rates. Then you will be grand-fathered into those rates if and when you have to

have serious surgery or are diagnosed with a serious life-threatening medical condition.

God bless you.

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Good to see you're doing better. You must be, now that you are concentrating on the business end of this deal. (Smile) I really appreciate your sharing this information because as you say it is not the physician's place to inform you and many times we either don't know or don't think about it. Hopefully those reading this will take heed. You and family are still in my prayers and I look forward to seeing you next Sunday.

Banks' response: Thank you, Gwen, for your continued prayers. I, too, am

looking forward to coming to Morning Star Baptist Church (3993 South King Drive)

Sunday morning (Sept. 21) to preach for your Men's Day celebration. You, Deacon

Posey and other members have been very supportive of my healing and the

healing of all others subscribing to this blog. I thank God for your faith in Him as a

healer and for your promotion of His healing powers through this blog. I look

forward to worshiping with the men of Morning Star in the ol' time way. They sing

long-metered hymns rarely performed in most Baptist church. This shows that your

men are rich in the history and culture of our faith. They thus provide a musical

museum that should be highly appreciated by knowledgeable worshipers. I pray

that most members of your congregation know how blessed they are.

With all due respect, standard of care therapy for left main coronary artery blockage is bypass surgery. Angioplasty is not an equivalent procedure in this subset of patients.

There are ongoing trials studying whether angioplasty with stenting is "noninferior" to open heart bypass surgery, but as stated above the standard of care as of 2008 continues to be bypass surgery for these patients.

As such, the doctors at U of C did not withhold an equivalent treatment option from the patient. Doing angioplasty would have been substandard care.

Banks' response: Thank you David for reading tis blog and posting your

comment. Certainly, for longterm effectiveness, I can see where bypass surgery

may be superior to stinting. But in my case, I wonder whether bypass was really

the best decision for me given the fact I only had a 50 percent blockage. Moreover,

it certainly devastated me in terms of being insurable. That was my main point.

What I should have done, especially since the bypass did not have to be

performed right away, was to gotten the best life insurance coverage beforehand

so that carriers could not use the bypass surgery to disqualify me from future

affordable coverage. A stinting could have been an effective temporary move. I

could, thus, have gotten the bypass later after buying a term policy with a 20-year

fixed premium.

Hello Rev. Banks

As I read your blog and continually pray your complete healing I still see God working mighty through you with such helpful information for others. Your experience share such important information that is so critical for our children, family and friends to know and uderstand. Stay encouraged, strong and in the Lord. With much love and respect! Beverly

Banks' response: Thank you, Sister Rogers, for your continued

encouragement. Because your son is a doctor, you obviously have a keen interest

in and appreciation for the role medical care often plays in God's healing process.

At the same time, your strong Christian faith avails you of God's supernatural

powers in solving all problems plaguing mankind. I am happy to hear that Deacon

Wiley Rogers is also recovering well from his bout with pneumonia. I'm praying for

your family.


If you had a "left main artery" blockage, then a stent even if temporary is not a good option. The left main artery is a short segment that separates into two of the three major arteries of the heart. A stent could very likely compromise flow to one of those two arteries (the stent metal can impinge on flow to one of the arteries as it crosses the other, or the plaque causing the 50% blockage can "shift" into unblocked areas and cause a major compromise of blood flow, which could lead to heart attack or death). Therefore, stenting is not a viable option for I'd say 80+% of left main artery blockages (even if it's a temporary solution and only 50% blocked). The left main artery is a very unique location where to this point surgery is the way to go (unlike other blockages where stents are probably just as good).

There are a few left main blockages that are far enough away from the two arteries the left main separates into that stenting may be feasible, but it's still risky and I'm guessing that the docs at U of C could distinguish whether you had one of these rare situations that make it inferior but feasible to do stenting.

I appreciate your comments re: insurance issues, but I want to make it clear that your docs likely did not drop the ball and did the right thing by not even thinking about stenting based on what I assume your coronary anatomy showed during the angiogram.

Banks' response: Thank you David for posting the 300th comment to my blog

and for making it a most informative comment. So informative and eloquent that

I feel I should by calling you Dr. David Hart. Are you a doctor or med student? If

all you say is true, then my doctors made the best recommendation, after all, in

terms of bypass instead of implanting a stent. But I still erred in not revising my

insurance policy before the bypass. Had I known then what I know know, I would

not have had the bypass until I had revised my term life insurance policy to a

long-term coverage with fixed premium payments. I realize that if I had had a

heart attack, and had survived it, the bypass would have been of utmost urgency

and emergency. It was simply a matter of my ignorance costing me dearly. I hope

that my readers will profit from my error.

Dear Rev. Banks,
I continue to be encouraged by your honesty, faith and courage in meeting your health and life challenges head on. Your faith in God is so evident that I pray to have the same measure of faith as I meet my life challenges. You are a walking sermon.
Nancy Ellis

Banks' response: Amen, Nancy. Thank you for supporting this blog by reading

it and emailing a comment for me to post. Thank you also for your inspiration. It

inspires and gratifies me to know that I am an encouragement to you. And I will

continue to preach through example this healing as it unfolds toward completion.

You have a bigger, broader ministry now than ever, it seems. I've read your sports coverage in the past (especially during the glory days of the Bulls, and have been reading your blog entries. And I was happy to see that an old friend, Stan Ketcik, was also among your readers.

Now in my 50s, I am reminded by your entries how important diet and exercise are to our health. I, like many people, struggle with weight and hypertension. So, I'm at the gym, on the meds, and trying very hard to learn about and eat foods that will support my health. Your entries here are a reminder of how important that is, and how great a gift we are given in things we take for granted. We get hearts and minds for free at birth. If we're putting junk in either of them, we can't expect to be healthy. If we work to sustain our health, when challenges, such as those you now meet, occur, we have a better chance of prevailing.

Thank you for the reminders. And thank you for sharing your insights with us. You do good in ways that you might never know.

Banks' response: Yeah, John, Stan is one heck of a guy--a prince of a pal.

Thanks for reading this blog and finally posting a comment. Over the course of

time, gaining bad weight and losing good health is a rather easy task in that we

don't even know what we're doing and we're enjoying it in the process. But to

lose that bad weight and regain good health is slow, difficult and often quite

painful, at least in the grunt category. Gym work, road work or any kind of

aerobic exercise that races the heart and works up a good sweat does wonders

when it's done consistently in concert with proper diet. Actually the consistent

exercising with suppress appetite and accelerate digestion and metabolism. Now

that we understand that formula, the challenge to us is to implement it into our

everyday agenda.

Please stay encouraged. Your testimony gives us courage and insight. By informing us of little things such as keeping insurance up to date is great. After having had an angioplasty with stenting my insurance opitions also diminished. People need to know these things as well as the progress of your treatment so that are equiped to do better.

Banks' response: Yes, Don, I was really shocked, hurt and angered when I

could not get new coverage once I underwent the bypass. Several gave me the

runaround, teasing me with false hope only to finally tell me that, at best, I'd have

to wait a year or two before even being considered. Others just told me outright

that the would not insure me. I felt that since I never had suffered a heart attack

and since I was electing to do something that would improve my health and

lengthen my life, the insurance companies would appreciate that as an asset than

a liability as an insurance risk. But it appears that life insurance companies don't

really care about us doing all we can to improve our health. Rather, they will

penalize patients for needing improvement in the first place. But who among us

really has perfect health? They certainly have to be in the minority. That's one

main reason I am against companies, including pro sports teams, trying to first

workers to submit to genetic testing.

Good Afternoon Rev.,

I have been meaning to post this entry but I am back in school now and caught up with reading and know the drift;). Thanks for the enlightening blog entry about insurance. I had never thought about life insurance in that way. But now I am giving it I want to get more insurance coverage before any illness hits? I have always thought that health insurance would take care of the illness and life insurance would take care of death. But I understand your point and it is well received. First we should access how much life insurance we have. Is it enough to take care of what needs to be done and is it enough so that our loved ones won't be burdened with anything? In the days ahead I am giving this much thought but after reading about the financial difficulties of AIG - the world's largest insurer, we all need to be wondering whether the insurance (if purchased) will be there when we need it. By the way I have insurance for my son through AIG. I continue to lift you up in prayer. Even when you don't see a blog entry from me know that I am still praying and petitioning the Lord on your behalf. Hope you are progressing OK. I might try to see you Sunday if I can sneak away from my own church.


Banks' response: By all means, do your studies first. One can never get too

much education that improves our employment options during this time of a

troubled economy and severely diminished job market. Now, when I say life

insurance, I am not limiting it to term life insurance. If I knew then what I know

now, I would have purchased double or maybe even triple the whole life and

universal life insurance coverage from John Hancock when I took our my policies

with them 35 years ago because they have turned out to be great savings

accounts as well as insurance policies because of the tremendous cash value they

have generated. But you are right about the stock market woes. As if the scandals,

corruptions and destructions of Enron, World Com, Arthur Anderson, Tyco and

others didn't damage Wall Street enough. The current financial failures of more

major companies have destroyed the stock market's credibility and integrity even

more. What companies can you really invest in with confidence?

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Lacy J. Banks

Lacy J. Banks, 67, has been a Sun-Times sportswriter/columnist for 38 years and a Baptist preacher for 58 years. He has preached at more than 100 different churches in the Chicago area. A native of Lyon, Miss., Banks graduated from the University of Kansas with a B.A. in French and he served three years in the Vietnam War as a U.S. Naval officer. Lacy and wife, Joyce, have been married 42 years and have three daughters and five grandchildren. Among beats Banks has covered for the Sun-Times are the Bulls, Fire, defunct Sting, Blackhawks, Wolves, Cubs, defunct Hussle, Rush, Sky, college football and basketball and pro boxing.



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This page contains a single entry by Lacy Banks published on September 12, 2008 12:41 PM.

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