Each individual patient responds to surgery differently. You are unique! And recovery from each specific surgical procedure, whether it’s a coronary artery bypass for clogged arteries or a valve repair/replacement for a narrow, or leaky valve, is also a little different.
What to expect from heart surgery?
It’s natural to feel anxious and worried about heart valve surgery. Many patients who have had heart valve surgery said their fears lessened when they learned more about the operation by asking questions and talking to the surgical team. These patients also emphasized that a positive attitude throughout the surgical experience helped their recovery.
The healthcare professional and staff will provide specific instructions prior to surgery. Some preparations include:
Talk to different members of the surgical team, such as anesthesiologist, surgeon, cardiologist, respiratory therapist, and nurses.
Discuss operation details with family members.
Visit the intensive care unit (ICU) where you may be referred for post-operative recovery.
Follow the pre-surgical guidelines informed by your medical team.
If your valve is being repaired or replaced, the surgical team will prepare you for surgery and provide you with medication that will put you to sleep. The operation varies from patient to patient, taking a minimum of two hours and usually longer. Your surgery will be performed while your heart’s function is taken over by a cardiac lung machine (called CPB, for cardiopulmonary bypass). As blood enters the CPB system, it exchanges carbon dioxide for oxygen (just like your lungs), using tubes that act as your veins and arteries. Your blood is also filtered and cooled or warmed to keep your body at the proper temperature.
During the operation, the surgeon will remove any tissue and calcium deposits that are interfering with the normal functioning of the valve. If your surgeon is doing a repair, the annuloplasty ring or band will be sewn into the tissue ring where your own valve is located. If your surgeon is doing a replacement, your damaged valve can be completely removed and then the new valve will be sewn into the space where your own valve was removed. The replacement valve will perform the function of your damaged valve.
After the surgeon makes sure your valve is working properly, blood flow will be restored to your heart and the incisions will be closed.
Immediately after the operation, you will likely feel sleepy. You will spend the next few hours, or possibly the night, in an ICU. There, the team will monitor your heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and other important body signals. You may feel uncomfortable due to the monitoring equipment. Nurses often help you turn over, cough and take deep breaths during this time to promote a healthy recovery. Family members and close friends are usually welcome to visit. (Consult hospital for ICU visitation rules).
When intensive care monitoring is no longer needed, you will be transferred to an emergency unit and eventually to a routine care hospital floor. A patient can stay in the hospital from one to seven days. Most patients are often surprised at how quickly they feel better and how quickly they can resume some normal daily activities, such as walking, eating, and bathing.
After being released from the hospital, you will need to see your healthcare professional periodically for follow-up appointments. During these follow-up visits, an x-ray or echocardiogram may be needed, which can reveal any valve malfunction or leakage.
Patients taking anticoagulants may need to have regular blood tests to monitor the dosage of the drugs. These tests usually require going to the healthcare professional’s hospital, office, or laboratory monthly, bimonthly, or weekly. Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can affect blood clotting or clotting. Patients should inform their healthcare professional about the medications they are taking. It is also important for patients with an artificial heart valve to carry a form of identification (card, necklace, bracelet) in case of an emergency.
Valve repair or replacement surgeries have been performed safely and effectively for many years. Advances in surgical techniques and new products have led to the development of minimally invasive cardiac surgery. Minimally invasive valve surgery involves a smaller incision than that performed by the surgeon in the traditional surgical approach. A smaller incision can lead to a reduced chance of infection, less pain during recovery, and is generally more aesthetically appealing because it leaves a smaller scar. However, minimally invasive surgery is not for everyone. Feel free to discuss with your surgeon which option might be best for you.