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Int J Qual Stud Health Well-being. 2011 Mar 18;6(1). doi: 10.3402/qhw.v6i1.5917.

Hope in action-facing cardiac death: A qualitative study of patients with life-threatening disease.

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Department of Public Health and Primary Health Care, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway.


Coping with existential challenges is important when struck by serious disease, but apart from cancer and palliative care little is known about how patients deal with such issues and maintain hope. To explore how patients with life-threatening heart disease experience hope when coping with mortality and other existential challenges, we conducted a qualitative study with semi-structured interviews. We made a purposive sample of 11 participants (26-88 years) who had experienced life-threatening disease: eight participants with serious heart disease, two with cancer, and one with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Analysis was by systematic text condensation. The findings showed that hope could enhance coping and diminish existential distress when patients were confronted with mortality and other existential challenges. Hope was observed as three types of dynamic work: to shift perception of mortality from overwhelming horror toward suppression or peaceful acceptance, to foster reconciliation instead of uncertainty when adapting to the new phase of life, and to establish go-ahead spirit instead of resignation as their identity. Meaning of life could, hence, be sustained in spite of serious threats to the persons' future, everyday life, and self-conception. The work of hoping could be supported or disturbed by relationships with family, friends, and health care professionals. Hope can be regarded as an active, dynamic state of existential coping among patients with life-threatening disease. Physicians may support this coping and thereby provide personal growth and alleviation of existential distress by skillfully identifying, acknowledging, and participating in the work of hoping performed by the patient.


Heart disease; existentialism; hope; mortality; qualitative research; trust

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