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Heart Defect Repair: Before Your Surgery

What is heart defect repair surgery?

Heart defect repair is surgery to repair a heart problem that prevents blood from flowing as it should through the heart. You will be asleep during the surgery. For an open-heart surgery, the doctor may make a large cut in your chest. The cut is called an incision. It usually is made through the breastbone (sternum). But some types of heart defects are repaired through a cut in the side of the chest between the ribs.

The doctor may connect you to a machine that does the jobs of your heart and lungs. It's called a heart-lung bypass machine. This machine lets the doctor stop your heartbeat while working on your heart. If this machine is used during surgery, the doctor will restart your heartbeat and stop the heart-lung machine after the defect is repaired. The doctor will disconnect the heart-lung machine. Then the doctor will use stitches or staples to close the incision in your chest.

You may stay in the hospital for a few days after surgery.

Some heart defects can be repaired with one surgery. But some people may need more than one surgery to repair the defect.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, ask your doctor if you should stop taking it before your surgery. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do. These medicines increase the risk of bleeding.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance care plan. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow all of your healthcare provider's instructions to be sure you're ready for surgery. They will tell you what to do and what will happen on the day of your surgery. (Learn more at Heart Surgery.)
  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery, and clean the area as instructed by your healthcare provider. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You will be asleep during the surgery.
  • You may go to the intensive care unit (ICU) right after surgery. You might stay in the ICU for 1 or 2 days before you go to your regular hospital room.
  • You will have a breathing tube down your throat. This is usually removed within 6 hours after surgery. You will not be able to talk or drink liquids while the tube is in your throat. After the tube is removed, your throat will feel dry and scratchy. Your nurse will tell you when it is safe to drink liquids again.
  • As you wake up in the ICU, the nurse will check to be sure you are stable and comfortable. It is important for you to tell your doctor and nurse how you feel and ask questions about any concerns you may have.
  • You will have a thin plastic tube in a vein in your neck. This tube is called a catheter. It is used to keep track of how well your heart is working. This is usually removed in 1 to 3 days.
  • You will also have a catheter in an artery in your arm. It is used to check your blood pressure and take blood samples.
  • You will have chest tubes to drain fluid and blood after surgery. The fluid and extra blood are normal and usually last only a few days. The chest tubes are usually removed in 1 to 2 days.
  • You will have several thin wires coming out of your chest near the incision. These wires can help keep your heartbeat steady after surgery. They will be removed before you go home.
  • You will have a tube that drains urine from your bladder. This is called a urinary catheter. It is usually removed within 1 day.
  • You may have a thin plastic tube in your nose that goes down the back of your throat into your 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 for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

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

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