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Heart Surgery

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Your Child's Heart Surgery: What to Expect

Being told your child needs heart surgery is never easy. And while your child is in exceptional hands, we understand that it's still a difficult time filled with questions and concerns. We want to help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety by walking you through the surgical process, explaining what you can expect, telling you more about our program and sharing resources you might find helpful.

Your child's surgical team will provide you with additional information along the way — information that is specific to your child's care.

Types of Heart Surgery

For some heart diseases and abnormalities, the best course of treatment is surgery. Surgical procedures generally are classified as closed-heart or open-heart. Pacemaker implantation also is considered a minor surgical procedure.

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Open-heart surgery includes any procedure in which the heart is literally opened. This requires the heart to be cooled down and the beating stopped, while a heart-lung bypass machine takes over the job of pumping oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.

The most often used incision (cut) for open-heart surgery goes straight down the chest the length of the breast bone (median sternotomy incision). The breast bone is separated, and the surgeon operates on or in the heart from the front.

Closed-heart surgery—In closed-heart surgeries, it is still necessary to open the chest, but not to stop the heart or use the heart-lung bypass machine. Most closed-heart procedures deal with major blood vessels, such as the aorta or pulmonary arteries.

Common closed-heart surgeries include aortic coarctation repair, “shunt” operations to increase blood flow to the lungs, vascular ring division, patent ductus arteriosus ligation or division, and pulmonary artery repair.

In some closed-heart operations, the incision is made on the side of the chest (thoracotomy incision). The ribs are gently separated and the lungs retracted to provide access to the vessels that need repair.