Heart Surgery
What to Expect

What to Expect with the Heart Surgery Program

The Heart Surgery Program at Cincinnati Children’s offers world-class care from surgeons known around the world for their expertise. We perform complex procedures on people of all ages with congenital heart disease, from infants to adults.

Every year, our cardiothoracic surgeons perform an average of 600 procedures, including heart and lung transplants. Our experienced teams help keep children safe and have some of the highest survival rates in the country. We use the latest tools and technologies to plan your child’s surgery and deliver personalized, high-quality care.

Learn more about what to expect if your child will be undergoing heart surgery at Cincinnati Children’s.

What to Expect at Your First Appointment with the Heart Surgery Program

Making an Appointment with the Heart Surgery Program

Typically, a patient is referred to our Heart Surgery team by another Cincinnati Children’s physician or by an outside cardiologist or hospital. We also provide second opinions for children who may need heart surgery.

If you are interested in our program or have been referred to our care, please contact us.

Preparing for Heart Surgery

One of our nurse coordinators will work with you and your family throughout the surgery planning process. The nurse coordinators will be your main points of contact. They will connect you with helpful resources while you’re here, both inside and outside of the hospital.

Your child’s surgeon and nurse practitioner or physician assistant will meet with you at the clinic before the surgery. They will help you understand your child’s upcoming surgical repair and provide pre-operative orientation and planning. The team will also provide information about what to expect on the day of your child’s surgery and what it will be like while your child is in the hospital. We want to answer all of your questions, so please feel free to write down any questions / concerns prior to this appointment.

Typically one to two days before your child’s surgery, you’ll meet with a nurse practitioner or physician assistant in the new Critical Care building (G6). They will talk to you about the day of the surgery and how to prepare for surgery. Your child will also have additional blood tests and imaging during this appointment.

If you are visiting from out of town, our Concierge Services can help before you travel and after you and your family arrive. They can assist your family with lodging options, including discounted rates at area hotels, as well as with local transportation and discounted or complimentary tickets to area attractions.

On the Day of Heart Surgery

Before Heart Surgery

On the day of their surgery, you and your child will return to G6, typically at 6 a.m.. You can download our Caren app to help you with directions to G6 and to remind you where you parked.

Once you arrive, a nurse will help prepare your child for surgery by getting vital signs and completing a thorough pre-op checklist. Parents can choose to have their child pre-treated for anxiety and can stay in the pre-op room, next to the OR, until their child is brought to the OR. Their child can bring a comfort item into the OR, and it will be placed in the CICU room at the end of the operation.

During Heart Surgery

Once your child is in the operating room, a specialized cardiac anesthesiologist will use anesthesia to put them to sleep so they are comfortable and do not feel the surgery. Your child will have a team of specially trained experts caring for them throughout the procedure. The team includes their pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, surgical fellows, advanced practice providers, operating room nurses, surgical assistants and perfusionists.

Preparation for heart surgery can take a long time, so the procedure usually begins about one and a half to two hours after your child enters the operating room. Our cardiothoracic surgery nurse coordinators will keep you updated throughout the procedure. They will let you know when the surgery has begun, how it is progressing and when it is complete. You can expect surgical updates about every 90 minutes.

After Heart Surgery

After surgery, your child will recover in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU), also on G6. The CICU team does rounds every morning. This is a good opportunity to participate in your child’s care for the day. To aid in recovery, your child will also see various specialists while they are in the hospital including physical and occupational therapists, child life specialists and speech therapists. Prior to discharge, your child will go to our step-down (Acute Care Cardiology) unit, which focuses on educating your family and preparing your child for discharge.

Your child may go home in a few days to weeks, depending on the surgery they received and their overall health. We will ensure that you are comfortable with their post-operative care, including medication administration, wound care and activity restrictions.

Your child will need to visit a cardiologist a few weeks after their surgery to ensure they are recovering well. The cardiologist will take images of your child’s heart. We have more than 25 convenient heart clinic locations throughout the Cincinnati region where you can schedule follow-up appointments.