Heart Defect Repair Surgery: Before Your Child's Surgery

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What is heart defect repair surgery?

A congenital heart defect is a problem with how a child's heart formed. The defect can affect how blood flows through the heart or blood vessels. The heart may have a hole between its chambers. A valve or artery may not have formed the right way. Or a heart valve, artery, or chamber may not have formed at all.

The type of surgery your child has will depend on the type of defect.

Your child will be asleep during the surgery. The doctor will make a cut in your child's chest. This cut is called an incision. It may be made through the breastbone. Or it may be in a different place. Some types of heart defects are repaired through an incision on the side of the chest between the ribs. During the surgery, the doctor may connect your child to a machine that does the jobs of the heart and lungs. This is called a heart-lung bypass machine. It will allow the doctor to stop your child's heartbeat while the repair is done. If this machine is used during surgery, the doctor will restart your child's heartbeat and stop the heart-lung machine after the defect is repaired.

After the doctor repairs the defect, stitches or staples may be used to close the incision in the chest.

Your child may stay at least a few days in the hospital.

Having a child with a heart problem can be scary. You may feel overwhelmed. Learning as much you can about your child's treatment can help you feel better. You may also want to talk with other parents who have a child with similar problems.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful for both your child and you. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your child's surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Talk to your child about the surgery. Tell your child that the surgery will help your child's heart work better. Hospitals know how to take care of children. The staff will do all they can to make it easier for your child.
  • Ask if the hospital has child life specialists. They can help you and your child understand your child's health condition, prepare for the surgery, and get emotional support.
  • Ask if a special tour of the surgery area and hospital is available. This may make your child feel less nervous about what happens.
  • Plan for your child's recovery time. Your child may need more of your time right after the surgery, both for care and for comfort.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell the doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies your child takes. Some may increase the risk of problems during the surgery. Your doctor will tell you if your child should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.

The day before surgery

  • A nurse may call you (or you may need to call the hospital). This is to confirm the time and date of your child's surgery and answer any questions.
  • Remember to follow your doctor's instructions about your child taking or stopping medicines before surgery. This includes over-the-counter medicines.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when your child should stop eating and drinking. If you don't, the surgery may be canceled. If the doctor told you to have your child take any medicines on the day of surgery, have your child take them with only a sip of water.
  • Have your child take a bath or shower before you come in. Do not apply lotion or deodorant.
  • Your child may brush their teeth. But tell your child not to swallow any toothpaste or water.
  • Do not let your child wear contact lenses. Bring your child's glasses or contact lens case.
  • Be sure your child has something that's a reminder of home. A special stuffed animal, toy, or blanket may be comforting. For an older child, it might be a book or music.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • A parent or legal guardian must accompany your child.
  • Your child will be kept comfortable and safe by the anesthesia provider. Your child will be asleep during the surgery.
  • The surgery may take at least several hours. The amount of time that the surgery will take depends on the type of operation needed.
  • After surgery, your child will be taken to the ICU or a recovery room. As your child wakes up, the staff will monitor your child's condition. The doctor will talk to you about the surgery.
  • Your child may have a breathing tube down the throat. This may be removed a few hours after surgery. Or the doctor may leave it in place for a longer time.
  • Your child may have a thin plastic tube in a vein in the neck. This tube is called a catheter. It is used to keep track of how well your child's heart is working. The doctor will probably take it out in 1 to 3 days.
  • Your child may also have a catheter in an artery in the arm. It is used to check blood pressure and take blood samples.
  • Your child will have chest tubes to drain fluid and blood from the chest after surgery. The fluid and extra blood are normal and usually last only a few days. The chest tubes are usually removed in 1 or 2 days.
  • There may be one or more thin wires coming out of your child's chest near the incision. These wires can help keep your child's heartbeat steady after surgery. They will be removed before your child goes home.
  • Your child may have a tube that drains urine from the bladder. This is called a urinary catheter. It is usually removed within 1 day.
  • Your child may have a thin plastic tube in the nose that goes down the back of the throat into the stomach. It will drain stomach juices. It is usually removed in the days after surgery.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare your child for the surgery.
  • Your child becomes ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about your child having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter W419 in the search box to learn more about "Heart Defect Repair Surgery: Before Your Child's Surgery".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.