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Clinical Specialties - Cardiac

Having Heart Surgery

Having Heart SurgeryGoing for heart surgery can be a stressful time for patients and their families. In order to reduce the stress and anxiety you may be feeling, make sure you talk to your specialist and have a clear understanding of what is involved with your procedure and ensure that you discuss your feelings both with them and family members. Research has shown that couples and families that cope best are those that view a stressful situation as a challenge in their lives and an opportunity to improve relationships.

Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery

Coronary artery surgery is performed when one or more of the coronary arteries becomes blocked with a fatty substance called plaque. The coronary arteries are located on the surface of your heart and supply your heart muscle with oxygen carrying blood. Blockages to these arteries can cause angina (chest pain) and may put you at risk of having a heart attack. By 'bypassing' the blockage in the coronary artery with a new vein or artery, angina and the risk of heart attack is greatly reduced.

During your surgery, you will be anaesthetised by a specialised cardiac anaesthetist. Once asleep, your breast bone (sternum) is cut and your heart is stopped or slowed so your surgeon can perform the surgery. When your heart is stopped, another specialised doctor called a perfusionist, operates a machine that temporarily takes over the role of your heart and lungs. This machine keeps your blood rich in oxygen and has the role of pumping it around your body.

As your coronary arteries are on the surface of your heart, the surgeon has easy access to them. Your new replacement 'plumbing' may either be a vein taken from your leg, a mammary artery taken from your chest wall, or an artery taken from your arm. Once the replacement vein or artery has been taken from your leg, arm or chest wall, the surgeon sews it both above and below the blockage in your coronary artery. This allows blood to flow freely past the blockage to the heart muscle below.

Once the heart has been repaired and it has started beating normally again, your breast bone is wired firmly together, and you will be taken to the Intensive Care Unit. You will not wake up from the surgery for some hours. This is a normal part of your recovery.

The time taken to perform this operation will vary between patients due to the number of bypass grafts required and the complexity of your circumstances. Your surgeon will be able to give you an estimate regarding the length of time your operation will take.

Heart Valve Surgery

In many cases, your heart valve can be repaired. However, if this is not possible, a replacement is required. The two main replacement valves available are mechanical or tissue valves.

The surgical preparation for this operation is very similar to coronary artery bypass surgery. Once the chest has been opened and the heart has been stopped, the heart is then opened and the damaged valve either repaired or replaced. When this has been performed, your heart is started and the breast bone is wired firmly together.


Recovery & Rehabilitation

Recovering from surgery can vary depending on the nature of the procedure and whilst newer minimally invasive techniques have improved the discomfort and recovery time for the patient, surgery can still be confronting both emotionally and physically. Whilst individual recovery will vary, it is still common to experience some difficulty with bowel movement, pain and general discomfort. Your specialist will outline what you could expect under normal conditions following the type of surgery you have experienced.

Physiotherapy will also be an integral part of your recovery following heart surgery.

You may recover initially in the Intensive Care Unit before being moved to the Coronary Care Unit or a hospital ward.

A successful recovery from heart surgery requires a commitment to rehabilitation and it can also reduce the incidence of subsequent cardiovascular events. Your surgeon will discuss the appropriate rehabilitation program for you following surgery to ensure the best possible recovery.

For more information on the extensive range of rehabilitation programs that the San offers, click here.


Education Sessions in Hospital

Depending on the nature of your procedure (particularly in the case of open heart surgery), you may be invited to a series of education sessions which are presented for you and your family whilst in hospital in order to make your transition from hospital to home a smooth one. These sessions are conducted by a variety of health care professionals and are held in the Level 9 Clifford Tower conference room. It is suggested that you attend as many of them as possible, and from around the fourth day after surgery onwards you may be able to do so. The case manager or patient educator will remind you of these sessions.

The topics covered include:

  • Understanding Your Cardiac Medications – Pharmacist
  • Physiotherapy For Hospital and Home – Physiotherapist
  • Going Home Guidelines – Cardiac Patient Educator/Case Manager
  • Outpatient Heart Health Program – Cardiac Rehab
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Sydney Adventist Hospital Clinical Specialties and Services