Open-Heart Surgery

No two hearts are alike, so your treatment shouldn’t be either.

Whether you need coronary artery bypass surgery following a heart attack or surgery to repair a damaged heart valve, you need a doctor who understands your condition and has the tools and expertise to find the problem and recommend a treatment or procedure.

Experience and Excellence

At Abrazo Health, our heart specialists have performed thousands of open-heart surgeries. This is one of the reasons The Joint Commission ranks us among the best places in the nation for heart attack, heart failure and surgical care.

We’ll stay with you from the day you’re admitted through your recovery to put your heart on a new path for the future.

Open-Heart Surgery

Open-heart surgery is any type of surgery that requires a surgeon to open the chest and operate on the heart muscle, valves, arteries or the aorta and other large arteries connected to the heart. During some open-heart surgeries, the heart is connected to a heart-lung bypass machine or bypass pump. The heart is stopped the whole time while it is connected to this machine. The bypass pump does the work of the heart and lungs by adding oxygen to the blood. It then circulates the blood to other organs in the body while removing carbon dioxide.

This major operation may be recommended if medical and noninvasive approaches are not an option for treating certain cardiovascular conditions. Today’s technology allows doctors to perform the following different surgical approaches to operate on the heart other than traditional open-heart surgery:

Off-Pump Heart Surgery

A procedure that is like traditional open-heart surgery where the chest wall is cut open to access the heart. The difference is that the heart is not stopped during surgery and the patient is not connected to a heart-lung bypass machine. Off-pump heart surgery is not advisable for all patients.

Minimally Invasive Surgery

A type of surgical approach that involves making small incisions in the side of the chest between the ribs without having to cut open the breastbone to reach the heart. The most common example of this surgery is robotic-assisted surgery where a surgeon uses a computer to control surgical tools on thin robotic arms to do complex and highly precise surgery.

Common Types of Open-Heart Surgery

When less invasive procedures aren’t an option, your doctor might recommend open-heart surgery.

Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting

Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG, pronounced as “cabbage”) is the most common type of heart surgery used to treat people who have severe coronary heart disease, a condition when plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

During CABG, the surgeon takes a healthy artery or vein from other parts of the body and grafts it to the blocked coronary artery. The grafted arteries reroute the blood around the blocked portion of the artery to supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. A patient may undergo multiple bypass grafts depending on the number of clogged arteries.

This procedure improves the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart, relieves chest pain, reduces the risk of heart attack and improves the patient’s ability for physical activity that has been limited by certain heart conditions.

Heart Valve Repair or Replacement

Healthy heart valves allow blood to precisely flow between different chambers and out of the heart into large arteries. Each valve has a set of flaps called leaflets. Surgery is performed when these leaflets do not open as wide as they should or if they do not close tightly. To fix these problems, surgeons either perform valve repair or replacement using a man-made or biological valve. These biological valves are made from pig, cow or human heart tissues.

Corrective Surgery for Heart Defect Present at Birth

Congenital heart defects (CHD) are the most common types of birth defect. Babies born with one or more heart defects have CHD. CHDs can affect the structure of a baby’s heart, the way it works and how blood flows through the heart and out to the rest of the body. Corrective surgery may fix or treat a heart defect that a child is born with. The number of surgeries to repair the heart or blood vessels depend on the type and severity of the defect.

What to Expect Before Surgery

Before you go in for open-heart surgery, your doctor will explain the procedure, ask you to sign a consent form and offer you the opportunity to ask questions. Your doctor may also perform a physical exam and ask for your medical history to help ensure you’re a good candidate for surgery.

What to Expect During Surgery

During your stay in the hospital, you’ll need general anesthesia for surgery. A breathing tube and ventilator will help you breathe and the surgical team will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and blood oxygen level during the procedure.

What to Expect After Surgery

You’ll be taken to a recovery room or directly to the intensive care unit (ICU) immediately after surgery. You’ll be closely monitored until you are awake and able to breathe on your own.

When your doctor determines you’re ready, you can move from the ICU to a postsurgical nursing unit, where you can gradually increase your activity by getting up and walking for short periods of time. Your doctor will also explain plans for your follow-up visits.


It is important to be patient during recovery. Aftercare differs from one person to another, but in general, it may take many weeks or months to return to your normal routine or usual levels of activity. Your doctor may recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program for you as part of the recovery process. Follow your doctor’s orders and immediately report any signs of infection such as redness or discharge around the chest wound. Watch out as well for other serious symptoms including difficulty in breathing, fever and excessive sweating.

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