What to expect the day of your heart valve repair

You will be admitted to the hospital the day before your open heart valve repair surgery. For minimally invasive procedures, you will probably report to the hospital the morning of your surgery. The day of surgery, you can generally expect to:

  • Talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam and ensure that all needed tests are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and will make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent form.
  • Remove all clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home or with a family member. Your care team will give you blankets for modesty and warmth.
  • Talk with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist about your medical history and the type of anesthesia you will have.
  • A surgical team member will start an IV.
  • You will have medication to help you rest comfortably.
  • The anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will start your anesthesia.
  • A tube will be placed in your windpipe to protect and control breathing during general anesthesia. You will not feel or remember this or the surgery as they happen.
  • The surgical team will monitor your vital signs and other critical body functions. This occurs throughout the surgery and recovery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and vital signs are stable.

What are the risks and potential complications of a heart valve repair?  

As with all surgeries, a heart valve repair involves risks and possible complications. Complications may become serious and life threatening in some cases. Complications can develop during surgery or recovery.

General risks of surgery 

The general risks of surgery include: 

  • Anesthesia reaction, such as an allergic reaction and problems with breathing 
  • Bleeding, which can lead to shock
  • Blood clot, in particular a deep vein thrombosis that develops in the leg or pelvis. A blood clot can travel to your lungs, heart or brain and cause a pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke.
  • Infection and septicemia, which is the spread of a local infection to the blood

Potential complications of a heart valve repair

Complications of a heart valve repair include:

  • Death
  • Heart attack
  • Heart arrhythmias or problems with heart rhythm
  • Kidney failure
  • Memory problems
  • Post-pericardiotomy syndrome, which is a low-grade fever and chest pain for up to six months following open heart surgery. A pericardiotomy is a surgical incision of the sac that surrounds the heart.
  • Stroke

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by following your treatment plan and:

  • Following activity, dietary and lifestyle restrictions and recommendations 
  • Informing your doctor or radiologist if you are nursing or if there is any possibility of pregnancy
  • Notifying your doctor right away of any concerns, such as bleeding, fever, increase in pain, or wound redness, swelling or drainage 
  • Taking your medications exactly as directed
  • Telling all members of your care team if you have any allergies

How do I prepare for heart valve repair? 

You are an important member of your own health care team. The steps you take before surgery can help improve your comfort and outcome.

You can prepare for a heart valve repair by:

  • Answering all questions about your medical history and medications. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal treatments, and vitamins. It is a good idea to carry a current list of your medical conditions, medications, and allergies at all times.
  • Getting preoperative testing as directed. Testing will vary depending on your age, health, and specific procedure. Preoperative testing may include a chest X-ray, EKG (electrocardiogram), blood tests, and other tests as needed.
  • Losing excess weight before the surgery through a healthy diet and exercise plan
  • Not eating or drinking before surgery as directed. Your surgery may be cancelled if you eat or drink too close to the start of surgery because you can choke on stomach contents during anesthesia.
  • Stopping smoking as soon as possible. Even quitting for just a few days can be beneficial and help the healing process.
  • Taking or stopping medications exactly as directed. This may include not taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and blood thinners.