Doctor taking blood pressure of patient.

Open Heart Surgery

Also known as: Cardiac Surgery

Experience matters, and Providence has it. We ensure consistent delivery of superior care, from a patient’s first visit through surgery, recovery and rehabilitation. This translates into excellent outcomes for our patients as well as peace of mind for families. When you understand your treatment plan and how to be an active participant in your recovery, you will obtain the best results from your heart surgery. We do this by providing you with important education during your entire course of care and pathway to recovery.

Open-heart surgery, or traditional heart surgery, may be done to perform a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) for people with coronary heart disease. During this surgery, a healthy artery or vein is grafted (attached) to a blocked coronary artery. This allows the grafted artery to “bypass” the blocked artery and bring fresh blood to the heart.

Open-heart surgery is also performed for the following procedures:

  • Repairing or replacing heart valves
  • Repairing damaged or abnormal areas of the heart
  • Implanting medical devices to help the heart beat properly

Once it has been decided that you need open-heart surgery, you will undergo a series of lab tests and procedures in preparation for the surgery. This often includes blood work, chest X-ray, electrocardiogram and pulmonary function testing.

In addition, you may also be asked to:

  • Stop smoking
  • Stop taking aspirin or other medications unless otherwise instructed by your doctor
  • Stop eating or drinking by midnight the night before surgery

When the surgical team is ready to begin your surgery, you will be given medicine to help you relax. You will then be taken to the operating room and be given additional medicine that will allow you to sleep through the procedure. Your surgical team will closely monitor you during surgery using a variety of devises, including:

  • A breathing tube to help you breathe while you are asleep and under anesthesia. The tube will be removed as soon as you can breathe on your own. Depending on your breathing status, the tube is usually removed within two hours of waking up.
  • Swan-ganz catheter is a large IV placed in the neck to monitor the heart function and allows nurses to give medications.
  • Arterial line is placed in the wrist to continuously monitor blood pressure.
  • Chest tubes help drain leftover blood in the chest area.
  • Foley catheter will drain urine from the bladder into a bag at the end of the bed.
  • Additional IV sites in the arm to administer medications when needed.

Once you are awake and the breathing tube is removed, you will be given a small, hand-held device used to measure how well you are filling your lungs with air. This helps improve breathing and prevents infections in your lungs. Deep breathing and coughing are important to remove any leftover fluids. You will be given a heart pillow to splint your chest area while coughing or deep breathing. This helps to decrease pain and allows the sternal bone to heal.

Pain management

Pain is an individual experience for each patient. In order to alleviate pain, it takes communication and teamwork between the patient and the clinical staff. Pain can be alleviated by various techniques including:

  • Medication
  • Using a heart pillow to splint the chest area when coughing, deep breathing or more
  • Relaxation techniques


Once you are stable, you will be transferred to the telemetry unit for recovery. Here you will have more independence, which will prepare you to return home. While on the telemetry unit, you will continue deep breathing exercises with the heart pillow and be expected to start walking in the hallways until discharge. The first couple of walks should be with a nurse. As the nurse feels appropriate you will be allowed to walk independently.

Recovery at home may create anxiety and fear for you and caretakers. To help decrease this anxiety, we begin discharge education early in your hospital experience. Follow the guidelines given at discharge and call immediately if you have any questions.

You can expect to wait six to eight weeks until you are able to return to your usual routine. Each person recovers differently so recovery time may be a little shorter or longer. Just remember to be patient, rest and take care of yourself as you recover. Follow the guidelines by your physician and call if you have any questions.

Cardiac rehabilitation

Cardiac rehabilitation is a way for people who have had heart surgery to get going again after surgery. You can begin the rehabilitation program after the first six weeks at home or when your physician approves. Talk to your physician for more information on a cardiac rehab program near you.

Doctors Specializing in Open Heart Surgery

At Providence, you'll have access to a vast network of dedicated and compassionate providers who offer personalized care by focusing on treatment, prevention and health education.