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Heart Surgery FAQs

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Your Child's Heart Surgery: FAQs

When your child is facing surgery, it’s normal to have questions. In fact, many parents have many of the same questions and concerns in common. Below, we’ve tried to answer the questions we hear most often. If you have other questions, or would like more detailed answers, feel free to contact your child’s surgical team. We want you to feel as comfortable as possible.

How long can I stay with my child before surgery?
At Mary Bridge, you’ll stay with your child right up until he/she is wheeled through the operating-room doors.

Will my child be on the heart/lung machine?
If your child's surgery is an open-heart procedure, the heart/lung machine will be used. Other procedures, including pacemaker implantations, do not require use of the heart/lung machine. 

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How long will the surgery take?
On average, pediatric heart surgeries take between two and four hours, with an additional hour needed for preparation in the operating room.

Will my child be awake during the procedure?
No. General anesthesia will be administered and your child will sleep through the procedure.

Will my child feel any pain during the procedure?
No. Your child may receive a sedative before going into the operating room, and then general anesthesia during the procedure. Following surgery, your child will be given pain medications to minimize discomfort.

How long will my child be in the hospital?
The length of the hospital stay varies, depending on the child and the nature of the procedure. A three- to five-day stay is common. However, in the case of a relatively simple procedure, your child may be ready to be discharged after two or three days. More complex surgeries generally require longer stays of up to one or two weeks.

If my child's breast bone is wired in place after surgery, will the wires interfere with metal detectors or prevent tests such as MRIs in the future?
No.

After surgery, how long will my child be in the Intensive Care Unit?
Children are generally ready to leave the ICU when they:

  • No longer need IV medications
  • Can breathe on their own
  • Have stable blood pressure
  • Have good heart rhythms
  • Have little or no bloody drainage from the chest tubes

Will riding in a car seat or booster seat hurt my child?
It shouldn’t. However, if you’re concerned about your child’s comfort you can place a towel or small pillow between the car seat strap and your child’s chest. Do not drive without having your child properly restrained — safety is important.

Do I need to restrict my child’s activities at home?
You won't have to. Following surgery, children naturally limit themselves to avoid discomfort. See the Going Home section for specific activity guidelines and restrictions.

Are there other parents or support people I can talk to?
Upon request, your heart surgeon or social worker may be able to put you in touch with a family that has been through an experience similar to yours. In addition, we have a support group, Mended Little Hearts, that meets monthly for families of children with a heart defect/heart disease.