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Open Heart Surgery

When other methods of clearing blocked arteries have failed or there are several severe blockages, a physician may decide bypass surgery is the best treatment option.

Coronary artery bypass surgery takes a healthy blood vessel from another location in the body (usually the leg) and grafts it to the blocked coronary artery to create a detour for blood to flow around the blockage. It is not unusual for surgeons to perform more than one bypass at a time to correct numerous blockages. During surgery, the heart is stopped and connected to a heart-lung machine, which works in place of the heart and lungs to circulate blood throughout the body, allowing the surgeon to perform the bypass.

Innovations in recent years, including endoscopic vein harvesting, beating heart surgery and the sutureless aortic connector, have revolutionized the way traditional artery bypass surgery is performed. These new innovations allow surgeons to perform bypasses less invasively, thus reducing complications and improving recovery time for some patients.

What to expect during this surgery

  • Pre-admission testing may be required prior to your surgery.  This consists of multiple tests that will help your care team and surgeons prepare to care for you during and after surgery.
  • The day of your surgery, you will be asked to arrive at the hospital several hours before your surgery. Please be sure to follow all pre-surgery instructions.
  • Prior to your surgery you will be taken to the hospital’s pre-surgery area, where you will be prepped for surgery. Some tests will be performed, an IV will be started and other preparations will be made. You will be asked to change into a gown and remove all jewelry. Your family and friends will be asked to wait in the hospital’s surgery family room.
  • Members of your surgery team, including your cardiovascular surgeon and anesthesiologist, will meet with you prior to surgery to answer any questions.
  • You will be transported from the pre-surgery area to the operating room, and an anesthesiologist will give you medication to help you sleep.
  • During traditional bypass surgery, a surgeon makes an incision down the center of your chest, cuts through your breastbone and retracts your ribcage to get direct access to your heart.
  • You will be connected to a heart-lung bypass machine, which circulates blood throughout your body in place of your heart and lungs during surgery.
  • Your heart is stopped, and your surgeon performs the bypass procedure. Often, multiple bypasses are required.
  • Once the bypass(es) are complete, your surgeon will close your breastbone with special sternal wires and your incision with special internal and/or external stitches. The surgeon will use electrical shocks to restart your heart, and you will be removed from the heart-lung bypass machine. Pacing wires and a chest tube to drain fluid are placed in your chest before it is closed completely.  Sometimes a temporary pacemaker is attached to pacing wires to regulate your heart rhythm until your condition improves.
  • Bypass surgery typically takes three to five hours to complete, depending on the number of bypass grafts required.
  • Members of your surgical team will update your family and friends on your condition and results from surgery.

What to expect after this surgery

  • You will be transferred to the hospital’s open-heart unit for monitoring.  The open-heart unit is a special intensive care unit staffed with specially trained intensive care nurses and staff.
  • Your health and progress will be continuously monitored, and you will be on a respirator. Monitoring includes frequent checks of your vital signs, heart sounds, blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
  • As your health improves, you eventually will be taken off the respirator and some monitors.  Patients typically stay in the open-heart unit for two to three days after surgery.
  • You will be transferred to a step-down unit, sometimes called the progressive heart unit, and will remain in the hospital for three to five days of additional monitoring after your time in the open-heart unit.

Returning home

  • Full recovery from bypass surgery takes two to three months. Most patients are able to drive three to eight weeks after surgery. Sexual activity can be resumed in three to four weeks, depending on your rate of recovery.
  • Most people with jobs that require little physical exertion can start back to work four to six weeks after surgery. If your job is physically demanding (such as construction work or heavy lifting), you may have to wait up to 12 weeks or longer before returning.
  • Your surgeon and cardiologist will schedule multiple follow-up visits with you after surgery and will work with you to develop a recovery plan. Often, cardiac rehabilitation is recommended by your physician to help you regain strength and energy and encourage healthy lifestyle changes.
  • Bypass surgery doesn’t prevent heart disease from recurring. Lifestyle changes are important, including quitting smoking, exercising regularly, managing weight, treating high cholesterol, controlling diabetes and high blood pressure, improving your diet, taking prescribed medications and following up with your doctor for regular visits.

This test or treatment is offered at these facilities:

To find a physician visit our Find a Doc or call (502) 629-1234 for a physician referral.

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