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By: Fred Willcox
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On occasion I am asked about why I do not offer thermal imaging and other similar instrument testing to my inspection services. I have written about this issue before but I have recently gone through a personal issue that gives a great example of why I do not use these devices.

A few weeks ago, I awoke around 2:30 one morning and my heart was racing and pounding. My wife felt my chest and called 911. An ambulance came and whisked me away to the emergency room. There it was determined that my blood pressure was very high but the blood tests indicated that I had not had a heart attack. So they gave me some medicine to reduce my blood pressure, made me promise to go see my doctor and sent me home.

Now personally, I would have blown off going to the doctor and gone on with my life, just as many purchasers of houses do with the results of their real estate inspection. But, my wife was in the emergency room with me so, as soon as my doctor’s office opened, she made an appointment. I planned on going by myself to the doctor so that I could ignore his advice but my wife went with me. The doctor looked at the report from the emergency room and had his nurse schedule an appointment for a nuclear stress test.

The nuclear stress test was interesting. They begin by injecting some radioactive material into your veins and then you wait an hour for the material to illuminate your heart. Then you lay on a table while a camera goes around you from side to side taking pictures from predetermined positions. Then they wire you up for an EKG and put you on a treadmill. They increase the speed and the slope of the treadmill so that your heart rate is increased to put stress on your heart while they are running an EKG. Your target heart rate is determined by your age so they wanted my heart rate to increase to 152. I was doing so well and the EKG was perfect so the doctor had me keep on going until my heart rate reached 192. There were no problems and the doctor felt optimistic that everything would turn out well. After I finished walking on the treadmill they put me back on the table and took another series of photographs and sent me home.

I left in a very good mood thinking that everything was OK and that I had just had some freak episode that had sent me to the emergency room. I even told my wife that she should have just given me a Valium and put me back to bed.

Two days later my doctor called with the results of the nuclear stress test. According to these results, I did not have blockage in any arteries but there were scars on the back of my heart indicating that I had suffered from heart attacks in the past. That statement was plural meaning more than one heart attack.

This came as a shock to me as I do not recall ever having any symptoms of a heart attack. I thought I caused heart attacks. I didn’t think I would have a heart attack.

Further I was puzzled as there were no obstructions in any artery and as I have always had great cholesterol numbers. I still do. In fact my cholesterol numbers are so good the doctors keep ordering blood tests to confirm the numbers. So this was all a mystery to me.

My doctor then told me I needed to make an appointment with a cardiologist and do whatever the cardiologist recommended.

So my wife made an appointment with a cardiologist as early as I could get one which was about 5 days away. At this point I was really annoyed. I imagine I felt like many of you feel when you are buying a house. All you hear about is how important it is to get to a hospital if you think you are having heart problems, which I did. Now, a week later, all I have gotten is bad news and I still don’t know what is wrong with me. And I get to wait another 5 or more days to go to another doctor who will probably not have anything good to tell me either.

Once I got into to see the cardiologist, I was expecting him to tell me to get an echo cardiogram. Instead he wanted me to get a heart catheterization. This is where they enter an artery through the groin, run dye through your heart and it is the absolute way to determine the condition of a heart. I was not psychologically ready for this and was not at all thrilled at the idea. Much as some of my clients are not thrilled or ready to hear what I have to say about the house they want to buy. After discussing the situation with my wife I decided to go ahead with the test.

During the test, you are awake. They give you a sedative and numb the skin where they enter the artery. And you really don’t feel anything. Once the doctor had checked everything out he reported to me that there were no scars on the heart, that I had never had a heart attack but that the LAD artery was approximately 75% obstructed. This was, again, all news to me particularly since it was the opposite of what the results of the nuclear stress were. I was then told that nuclear stress tests are only about 80% accurate. This is considerably higher than the accuracy level of thermal imaging tests.

I told the doctor to go on and put in a stent, which he did.

The point of this story is that thermal imaging is a short cut just as the nuclear stress test was a short cut. As far as it goes and with its limitations, the nuclear stress test is OK. The results of the test were inaccurate but the test did lead to me having the heart catheterization which accurately found the problem with my heart. It is the same with thermal imaging. In every inspection I have performed to date, I have found through visual means indications of the defects that have been found with thermal imaging. The difference is that I have always told my clients that the only way to know what is inside a wall or inside a ceiling you have to remove the wall coverings.

There are no shortcuts if you really want to know the truth.

I had a number of problems after this point which included 2 aneurysms and a blood clot and major surgery to reconstruct my artery. Just as houses often have problems beyond what is apparent.

To avoid the ‘aneurysms, blood clots and the major surgery’ on your new house at your expense, when your inspector tells you to open the walls, ceilings or floors to find what the problems are, don’t settle for the short cut that may give you inaccurate results. Do the right thing. Insist on protecting yourself, your family and your finances.