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Closed-Heart Surgery

What are the differences between "open-" and "closed-" heart operations?

Many operations using cardiopulmonary bypass today do not require a cardiac chamber to actually be opened (such as coronary artery bypass surgery in adults). We use the terms "open-" or "closed-" heart surgery to describe whether a procedure uses the heart-lung bypass machine support.

The terms "open-heart surgery" and "closed-heart surgery" date from the early days of cardiac surgery (the 1940s and 1950s). The earliest cardiac operations were all for congenital heart disorders. Heart-lung bypass machine support was required to allow surgeons to open the heart to work on its internal deformities.

Closed-heart surgery does not use the cardiopulmonary bypass machine.

Benefits of Closed-Heart Surgery

Most closed-heart operations deal with the major blood vessels coming directly from the heart, such as the aorta or pulmonary arteries.

Often, closed-heart procedures are done using a thoracotomy incision (from the side, between the ribs). Some are best done from the front (sternotomy incision). With a thoracotomy incision, the entry into the chest is in between the ribs. Because there are nerves running along these ribs and more muscle is divided, such an incision can lead to irritation of the nerves and cause pain. For that reason, a thoracotomy incision is more painful than a sternotomy incision. However, most infants leave the hospital on just ibuprofen and Tylenol after a thoracotomy.

Examples of closed-heart operations include repair of an aortic coarctation, division of a vascular ring, ligation or division of a patent ductus arteriosus, and repair of some pulmonary artery problems.

After Surgery

In general, problems that can be corrected without the use of heart-lung bypass support may involve a shorter hospitalization and recovery time. The length of recovery will depend partly on potential complications that may arise and on the health of the patient before surgery. A six- to eight-week recovery period is common. Nutrition is a critical component of the recovery period.

After surgery, most infants can be fed enterally (in the gut) after a day or two. But even when the child is not being fed formula or milk, nutrition is being delivered in an intravenous (IV) form. In more limited situations, simple IV fluids containing sugar-water will work. At other times, the IV nutrition can replace all the sugars, proteins and fats that the patient needs. That complex form of IV nutrition is called TPN (total parenteral nutrition).

Some babies can take a while to recover after surgery until they can be fed by mouth. This depends on how the child was feeding before surgery and whether there are any medical reasons affecting the ability of the gut to work. It is not unusual for some kids who have been feeding normally before surgery to have a setback. They might require some sort of extra nutritional support. Nutrition is critical in the healing process. At times we place tubes, called feeding tubes, into the stomach (through the mouth or the nose) to make sure the child receives adequate calories to heal properly.

Often, children are discharged home on some medicines. Typically, these include diuretics (water pills) and sometimes other heart medicines. The dosage of these medications will be adjusted when you follow up with your surgeon and cardiologist. Most patients are seen within 10 to 14 days after discharge. We will provide you with a set of instructions before your discharge to guide you on your child's medicines and postoperative care. We will teach you how to assess the wounds and what problems to look for.

You should use common sense when your child is discharged home. Sick people should not visit for the first few days. Good and frequent hand washing is critical, especially before examining the wound. The wound should be kept clean and dry for the first couple of weeks. Generally, we recommend avoiding immunizations within the first six to eight weeks after surgery.

Finally, as with any surgical incision, a rest period helps ensure good wound healing. There will be a period when activity will be somewhat restricted to help with healing.

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Last Updated 05/2024

Reviewed By Audrey McCabe, CTS

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