Heart Valve Replacement Surgery and Recovery
Heart valve surgery is used to repair or replace damaged or diseased heart valves. A common precursor to heart valve surgery is heart valve disease, which happens when a heart valve does not close completely, which can cause blood to flow backwards, limit blood flowing forward, cause chest pains, shortness of breath, fainting, or heart failure. Undergoing heart valve surgery can be beneficial as it can ultimately result in a better quality of life.
Types of Heart Valve Surgery
There are many different types of heart valve surgery, and your doctor will first evaluate the heart to decide which type of surgery is necessary. There are four valves within the heart: aortic valve, mitral valve, tricuspid valve and pulmonary valve. With open surgery, the surgeon makes a large surgical cut in the breastbone to reach the heart and aorta.
During open surgery, most people are connected to a heart-lung bypass machine or bypass pump, as the heart is stopped while you are connected to the machine, allowing the machine to do the work of the heart while the surgeons perform their tasks. Other types of heart valve surgery are less invasive, and can be performed via smaller cuts than with open surgery, or through a catheter inserted through the skin. These techniques include valve repair, in which the surgeon trims, shapes, or rebuilds one or more of the leaflets of the valve, which is best for the mitral and tricuspid valves, as well as ring annuloplasty, during which the surgeon repairs the ring-like part around the valve by sewing a ring of plastic, cloth or tissue around the valve. If the valve is too damaged to repair, a new valve is put into its place. This procedure is known as heart valve replacement surgery.
There are many different types of new valves that can be used during heart valve surgery. They can include mechanical valves, made of man-made materials like metal or ceramic, biological valves, made of human or animal tissue, or a Ross Procedure may be performed, in which a surgeon takes the patient’s pulmonary valve and uses it to replace a damaged aortic valve. The pulmonary valve is then replaced with an artificial valve. Each of these procedures has its advantages and disadvantages, making it important to consult with a doctor to figure out which one is the best for the situation.
What to Expect
No matter which heart valve surgery is being performed, the preparation can be scary for both children and their parents. If your child is a candidate for pediatric heart valve surgery, it is important to understand what to expect during and after the procedure and feel confident in it.
If you have any doubts, talk to your doctor and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. After all, your confidence will ultimately help your child feel less nervous about the procedure. If your child is old enough, talk to them about the procedure. A conversation starter could be, “We are going to the hospital for a little while so the doctor can make your heart better”. Showing them the area where the surgery will take place on his or her body is also a good idea – no child should ever be surprised with a surgery.
Keeping in contact with the child’s doctor is also important as you approach surgery, so you know what medications the child should take the day of surgery, whether or not your child is allowed to eat before surgery, and what to expect during heart valve surgery recovery. Also make sure your child has completed any necessary tests beforehand – including blood tests, x-rays of the chest, echocardiograms or electrocardiograms.
Heart Valve Surgery Recovery
During heart valve surgery recovery, most children are required to rest in the cardiac intensive care unit (CICU) for 2 to 4 days after surgery, and at times required to remain at the hospital 5 to 7 more days after that. Some children begin eating and drinking on their own within 1 to 2 days of the surgery, while others take longer.
Regardless of whether the child has received open surgery or another one of the aforementioned procedures, the doctor will inform you on what activities the child can and cannot participate in, how to take care of the incisions, what medicines your child will need, and when your child can return to school or daycare to prevent serious heart infections.
You should also check whether your child will need antibiotics before going to the dentist. It will also be necessary for your child to visit a cardiologist every 6 to 12 month.