Leukocyte telomere shortening reflects stress burdens and has been associated with cardiac events. However, the patient-specific clinical value of telomere assessment remains unknown. Moreover, telomere shortening cannot be inferred from a single telomere length assessment. The authors investigated and developed a novel strategy for gauging leukocyte telomere shortening using autologous cardiac atrial referencing. Using multitissue assessments from 163 patients who underwent cardiovascular surgery, we determined that the cardiac atrium-leukocyte telomere length difference predicted post-operative complexity. This constituted the first evidence that a single-time assessment of telomere dynamics might be salient to acute cardiac care.