Happy Heart, Happy You.
When it comes to your heart, only the best care will do. Dignity Health's board-certified cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons are dedicated to helping you keep your heart healthy and strong. And early detection of heart problems means treatment can start early, so you'll live healthier longer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why choose Dignity Health for cardiac surgery?
At Dignity Health, our specialists combine advanced heart procedures with a personalized level of dignity, respect, and compassion. Our cardiac surgeons are experts at using the latest and most innovative surgical techniques, including robot-assisted and minimally invasive procedures, which reduce post-operative pain and promote faster recovery times. Our cardiology care teams diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions of the heart and blood vessels, and they do so with humankindness.
Who is a candidate for cardiac surgery?
If you are currently experiencing symptoms typically associated with blocked vessels due to the build-up of plaque, our skilled cardiology specialists may recommend using cardiac catheterization to diagnose the condition.
Also, cardiac catheterization can be used as a diagnostic tool during:
- cardiac angiogram
- coronary angioplasty
- coronary CT angiogram
- electrophysiology study
- interventional abdominal aortic aneurysm repair
Cardiac catheterization is also used as part of some other procedures to help widen a narrowed artery or treat heart rhythm problems.
Candidates for cardiac catheterization include patients for which additional information is required to make a diagnosis, or those whose diagnosis is known but also requires additional anatomical information to determine the appropriate type of therapy.
Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG)
If you are experiencing severe chest pain caused by a narrowing of the arteries that supply oxygen to your heart muscles, your doctor may recommend CABG. Our specialists may also suggest CABG after other less invasive procedures have failed or are contraindicated.
CABG surgery can help to:
- improve blood flow to your heart
- reduce any chest pain you may be experiencing
- lower the likelihood of a heart attack if you have severe coronary heart disease (a condition in which a waxy plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries)
Candidates for coronary artery bypass grafting include those with severe chest pain caused by narrowing of arteries that supply oxygen to the heart muscle—especially when other less invasive procedures have failed or are contraindicated.
Heart valve repair/replacement surgery
Your cardiology specialist may recommend a heart valve replacement if you have a damaged or diseased heart valve. Your doctor may recommend this surgery if you have:
- aortic valve stenosis (narrowing)
- aortic valve regurgitation (leaking)
Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to increase your heart’s ability to pump blood. However, a malfunctioning heart valve is a mechanical problem that cannot be fixed with medication alone, hence, your doctor may recommend a heart valve replacement as well.
What should I expect from my cardiac surgery experience?
Cardiac catheterization is usually performed while you are awake but sedated. Your doctor will first numb the area where the catheter will be inserted, usually the groin, neck, or arm. After the area has been numbed, a needle will be used to make a small hole into the blood vessel.
Next, your doctor will insert a tapered tube called a sheath. After inserting the sheath, your doctor will insert a thin, flexible guide wire through the sheath and into your blood vessel, and then thread the wire through your blood vessel to your heart.
Once the wire reaches your heart, your doctor will use it to put the catheter in place. From that point, there are several different diagnostic and therapeutic actions your doctor can take.
If your doctor is checking for blockages, a dye can be injected into the catheter. The injected dye can be detected using X-ray imaging. This procedure is called a coronary angiogram.
If your doctor needs to collect a tissue sample (biopsy), a jaw-like tip can be attached to the end of the catheter to remove the sample.
Coronary artery bypass grafting requires general anesthesia and is usually done through a long incision on the chest. After the chest is opened, the heart is temporarily stopped and a heart-lung machine takes over to circulate blood to the body.
The surgeon then takes a section of a healthy blood vessel harvested from the chest or lower leg, and attaches the ends of the section above and below the blocked artery, thereby “bypassing” the blockage.
In some cases, the surgeon may be able to perform the procedure by merely stabilizing the heart but not stopping it entirely. In other cases, the surgeon may be able to take a minimally invasive approach and enter the chest through a smaller incision with the assistance of robotics or video imaging.
Heart valve surgery has traditionally been an open-heart procedure. However, newer, less invasive techniques have been developed, which may be performed through one or more small incisions, and may be robotic-assisted. Minimally invasive heart surgery typically involves less post-operative pain, shorter hospital stays, and faster recoveries.
A valve repair is generally preferable to a replacement, as it preserves existing tissue and function. In valve repair, the surgeon may:
- patch holes
- reconnect flaps
- remove excess tissue
- sever flaps that have fused
- tighten the ring around the outer edge of valve
If a valve cannot be repaired, the surgeon may replace it with either a mechanical valve or one made from cow, pig, or human heart tissue.
Both types of replacement have upsides and downsides. Biological valves degenerate and may eventually need to be replaced. Mechanical valves require that you take blood-thinning medications for the rest of your life to avoid blood clots from forming.
What should I expect from my recovery?
After cardiac catheterization, the length of your hospital stay will depend on your condition. You may be able to go home on the same day.
If the catheterization was for testing purposes, your doctor will discuss the results with you. If the results of the test indicate that an angioplasty would be an effective treatment, the doctor may perform it immediately to avoid having to conduct an additional catheterization—if this is a scenario you have previously discussed.
After coronary bypass surgery, you will likely spend one to two days in the intensive care unit (ICU) while vital signs are continuously monitored.
Barring complications, you will probably be able to go home within a week. The recovery period typically lasts about six to twelve weeks, and you may be ready to return to work and resume exercising within four to six weeks.
Ultimately, the quality of your outcome will depend partly on your adherence to doctor recommendations including prescription medication, diet, stress management, weight maintenance, and smoking cessation.
Following heart valve surgery, as with coronary bypass surgery, you will likely spend one to two days in the ICU, during which you will be closely monitored. From there you will be moved to a regular hospital room for observation for several days and close monitoring. Before returning home, your doctor will discuss medications you will need to take and lifestyle changes you may need to adopt for optimal recovery.
What should my family and friends know?
While you are in recovery from heart surgery, you may need assistance from family and friends in a variety of ways.
Household chores — in the initial weeks of recovery, you may not be able to leave your home to shop for food or perform outdoor chores. Even simple everyday physical tasks may be too demanding. Your family, friends, and caregivers can help you shop for and prepare heart-healthy foods, and also keep your home clean, thereby preventing post-surgery infections.
Driving — your doctor may ask you not to drive after surgery. Sudden arm movements or an accident while driving could lead to serious injury to your healing heart. However, you may need to attend your post-surgery medical appointments, so your family, friends, and caregivers can offer to drive you to follow-ups and/or other destinations.
Walking — your doctor may recommend daily walks as part of your recovery routine. Your family and friends can offer to go on walks with you to provide good company and heart-felt encouragement.
Medicines — you will probably need to take several medications after surgery. Your family and friends can help you keep your medicines organized. They can also assist with tracking your drug dosage.