Pediatric Heart Surgery: What to Expect

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Comprehensive heart care from one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals.

The Norton Children’s Heart Institute Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Program is rated one of the best in the country.

If your baby has been diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that may require surgery, the surgeons at Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, have the experience and expertise your child needs.

Norton Children’s surgeons have performed more than 100 heart transplants since 1986, when we were the second facility in the United States to perform a heart transplant in an infant.

Norton Children’s Heart Institute is the only program performing pediatric heart transplants in Kentucky.

Our pediatric heart surgeons are prepared to perform the most complex operations and minimally invasive procedures for newborns as well as patients of any age with a congenital heart condition.

In addition to the skilled surgeons with Norton Children’s Heart Institute, you’ll be surrounded with support that begins with your nurse navigator. A trained registered nurse, the navigator will help you understand your child’s condition, assist with insurance arrangements, coordinate appointments with specialists and more. 

You will have a direct line to the navigator and access to an after-hours phone line.

What to Expect From Your First Appointment

Fetal Cardiology

Working with your nurse navigator, we’ll set up time for you to meet the Fetal Cardiology Program team members. These medical providers — a pediatric cardiologist, neonatal specialists, cardiac intensive care specialists and heart surgeon — will be with you through your pregnancy, delivery and child’s care.

Acquired Pediatric Heart Disease Surgery

Children don’t develop heart disease as often as adults. When a child develops a heart condition, often it’s the result of an infection and can be treated with medication. Children who have congenital heart defects can develop additional conditions that need their own treatment.

Sometimes in severe cases, heart surgery is required to repair a child’s damaged heart valves or heart muscle.

Pediatric and Adult Congenital Heart Disease Care

The Norton Children’s Heart Institute Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Program providers also care for children and adults diagnosed with congenital heart conditions. While it may seem odd to have a pediatric heart surgeon care for an adult, the specialized skills needed to correct congenital heart defects apply regardless of age.

While advancements in fetal screening have allowed more and more children with congenital heart disease to receive lifesaving treatment shortly after birth, others are diagnosed later or need to grow some more before surgery is appropriate.

Adults who were diagnosed as children or later in life need ongoing care from an adult congenital heart disease specialist and may require surgery at some point.

Most children and adults with congenital heart conditions are seen first by a pediatric cardiologist and referred to the Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Program if necessary.

Before Pediatric Heart Surgery

If you or your child needs heart surgery related to a congenital condition, you’ll work with the Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Program team and nurse navigator. You’ll receive detailed information about the procedure and find a sympathetic ear for all of your questions, concerns and fears.

Tests and evaluations before the surgery may include blood tests, scans to create detailed images of the heart, electrocardiograms and echocardiograms. The tests help the team assess overall health, better understand the heart condition and plan the surgery.

There may be specific steps you need to take when it comes to eating and medication before surgery.

On the day of the procedure, you’ll arrive hours before the scheduled surgery time so you and your child can prepare for the operation, complete any paperwork and address last-minute questions. Part of the preparation is monitoring vital signs and administering general anesthesia.

This is going to be an anxious time for you. Norton Children’s Heart Institute staff can provide support and put you in touch with families that have recently gone through pediatric heart surgery. Talk to your nurse navigator about arranging introductions.

During Pediatric Heart Surgery

The Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Program team at Norton Children’s Heart Institute is skilled and experienced at performing a full range of complex procedures. Your nurse navigator will help you understand the process and what to expect, which may help alleviate your anxiety.

General anesthesia ensures that your child remains asleep during the surgery and feels no pain while surgeons are working. The anesthesiologist, a specialized medical doctor, monitors vital signs, adjusts the anesthesia medicine and will give your child medication to keep them stable and comfortable.

During open heart surgery, your child will be placed on a heart-lung bypass machine. This machine takes over the work of the heart and lungs, so your surgeon can operate on a still heart. The machine will add oxygen to your child’s blood and pump it through the body during the surgery.

Depending on your child’s condition, a number of approaches may be taken to correcting the heart abnormality. Holes may be patched, blood vessels may be widened and, in some cases, the heart may need to be reconstructed to allow for healthy circulation.

Some of these steps can be very time-consuming, and the length of your child’s surgery will depend on the complexity of the procedure. The Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Program team will be able to estimate the time needed before surgery and keep you updated as the procedure progresses.

After surgery, your child will be monitored closely in the Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Norton Children’s Hospital. Vital signs are followed closely, and some children require temporary use of a ventilator to maintain blood pressure and heart function immediately after cardiac surgery.

After Pediatric Heart Surgery

The complexity of the surgery and your child’s recovery will determine how long they’ll be at Norton Children’s Hospital. During recovery, you’ll get postoperative instructions. The team will monitor the incision and give you instructions on caring for your child at home and giving them medications. For some complex procedures, you’ll receive equipment to provide the team at Norton Children’s Heart Institute data, such as blood pressure and heart rate, from home. You’ll have access to our 24-hour call line in case you have any concerns during off hours.

Pediatric Heart Surgery: What to ExpectThe specialists at Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, perform thousands of procedures every year. Primary areas of focus include:

The Cardiothoracic Surgery Team

Why Choose Norton Children’s Heart Institute

  • Norton Children’s Hospital has been a pioneer in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, performing Kentucky’s first pediatric heart transplant in 1986 and becoming the second site in the United States to perform an infant heart transplant.
  • The American Board of Thoracic Surgery has certified our cardiothoracic surgeons in congenital heart surgery.
  • The Adult Congenital Heart Association has accredited Norton Children’s Heart Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program as the only comprehensive care center in Kentucky and Indiana treating adults born with a heart defect.
  • More than 17,000 children a year visit Norton Children’s Heart Institute for advanced heart care.
  • Norton Children’s Heart Institute has offices across Kentucky and Southern Indiana to bring quality pediatric heart care closer to home.
  • The Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) at Norton Children’s Hospital is the largest dedicated CICU in Kentucky, equipped with 17 private rooms and the newest technology available for heart care.

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