Heart Valve Replacement Surgery - Topic Overview
Close the chest
When your heart is beating normally, your surgeon will close your
rib cage using heavy-gauge steel wire to sew the breastbone (sternum) together.
The surgeon then will use stitches to close the incision in your chest. In most
cases, you will have a visible scar on your chest.
Recover in the hospital
In the ICU
When you first wake
up after your operation, you will be in an intensive care unit (ICU) so that
your doctor can monitor your heart function to make sure that there are no
complications. You will also find many wires and tubes inserted into different
body parts. Most of these wires and tubes were inserted while you were in
surgery. But they were kept in place to help your body perform vital functions and to provide
you intravenously with medicine (primarily painkillers) and nutrients.
The purposes of the wires and tubes include checking your heart and blood pressure, getting blood samples, draining fluid from your chest, and draining urine from your bladder.
At first, you will feel drowsy and disoriented while the
anesthesia wears off. You may also experience some pain, though you will be
given painkillers. For the first few hours after surgery, you will be kept on a
respirator or ventilating machine to help you breathe. The breathing tube usually will be removed from your lungs soon
after you wake up.
In your hospital room
When your condition
stabilizes and you have been moved to a regular hospital room, you will
continue to rest and recuperate while your doctor monitors your recovery. Your
care will also include physical and respiratory therapy, emphasizing breathing
exercises and simple exercise such as walking. You will also receive counseling
about a heart-healthy diet and exercises that you should maintain after you leave
You will likely
be able to eat solid foods within 24 hours after surgery and will be able to
get up and walk around within 48 hours after surgery. Your chest will, of
course, be sore for some time.