Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery - Patient Care and Treatment

Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery - Patient Care and Treatment

Learn what to expect when your child is scheduled for surgery to treat pediatric and congenital heart disease at Penn State Children’s Heart Group.

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This video has been created to help pediatric patients and their families prepare for surgery at Penn State Children’s Hospital. If you have any questions about your child’s surgery, please talk with your surgeon. For more information on how to prepare your child for surgery, please contact the Child Life Program at 717-531-0003 extension 320498.

Before surgery

Q: What should I expect during the pre-op visit?

A: During the pre-op (before surgery) visit you will meet with the surgeon (Dr. John Myers or Dr. Brian Clark). The surgeon will explain the operation that has been recommended for your child. You will sign the consent form for the surgery. You will also meet with the anesthesiologists who will have a second consent form specific for the anesthesia for you to sign. Your child will have a short history and physical. Your child will need to have blood drawn for his type and cross to set aside blood for him for the day of surgery. They will place a pink band on his arm, which needs to remain on until surgery. This entire process takes about four hours.

Q: Must my child receive a blood transfusion the day of the surgery?

A: The possibility of your child receiving a blood transfusion depends on his weight and the type of surgery being performed. Our surgeons will avoid giving a child blood whenever possible. Some families prefer to donate blood for their child. This is called designated donation. There may be an additional charge for this service. There is no medical benefit to donating blood for your child, but if this is something you wish to do, arrangements should be made at the time you schedule surgery. You need to contact Blood Bank at 717-531-8232 to schedule directed donation.

Day of surgery

Q: How will I know how surgery is going?

A: Most operations are uneventful. When surgery is nearly complete, your care team will update you. Our surgeon will see you after surgery and answer any questions. If there is a significant change in your child's prognosis, we will notify you immediately. We recommend that you wait in the family waiting area outside the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit on the fourth floor of the Children's Hospital.

Q: What will my child look like after surgery?

A: Typically, there will be some small tubes and wires coming out below the breast bone. The area of the incision will be covered with a sterile dressing. Very often patients are sleeping or very groggy the first time you see them after surgery. We will offer you a tour of our Pediatric Cardiac Care Unit area while your child is in surgery, to familiarize you with the layout.

Q: Where do I wait during surgery?

Pediatric Intensive Care Unit on the fourth floor of the Children's Hospital.

In the hospital

Q: Should my child's siblings be part of the hospitalization experience?

A: This depends on the age and level of understanding of the siblings. Visiting the hospital can help siblings feel more comfortable and less fearful. This is especially important if they have recently had the experience of a family member going to the hospital and not coming home.

Q: May I stay with my child during his hospitalization?

A: Yes! We encourage you to stay with your child as much as possible. While your child is in the Pediatric Cardiac Care Unit, you may visit at the bedside as much as you like, but there is no place for you to sleep in the unit. Please no more than two visitors at the bedside at a time. There will be times we ask you to step out for short periods. Feel free to call the unit for updates if you cannot be there. We will only give out information to parents on the phone. When your child is moved to the step-down area (our intermediate unit), most rooms have space for one parent to sleep in the room with the child.

After surgery

Q: My child had open heart surgery and had his sternum (breastbone) closed with wire. Will he set off a metal detector?

A: This question goes through many parents' minds. The answer is no, if he sets off the metal detector at the airport, check his pockets for change, etc.

Q: What happens to these wires?

A: They stay there, and the bone grows around them. They are made of stainless steel and do not rust.

Q: What will my child's scar look like with time?

A: Every person's body scars differently. Most scars fade to a thin white line with time. Scar tissue is more sensitive to sunlight and should be protected from sunlight for the first year after surgery. It's recommended keeping it covered with a shirt or sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher).

Q: Should I put Vitamin E on my child's incision to help it heal?

A: We recommend keeping the incision clean and dry till it is healed and the scab falls off. This will take about two weeks. After this, it is personal preference.

Q: What can I expect my child to act like when he comes home from the hospital?

A: This depends on the age of the child. Infants may be fussy. His sleep patterns may change for the first week after leaving the hospital. Toddlers are frequently "clingy" while in the hospital, but this improves quickly after discharge. Older children and teenagers will be more tired than usual, perhaps even taking naps the first week after leaving the hospital. Most infants and small children's behavior returns to normal about one week after surgery. Older children and teenagers take longer. It will probably take about two to four weeks for their energy level to return to what it was before surgery.

Q: What will follow-up be like after my child leaves the hospital?

A: Usually we ask your child to return two weeks after discharge from the hospital. After this visit, your child will need to see his or her pediatric cardiologist. How often your child will need to be seen depends on his specific condition and progress after surgery.

Return appointments

We will arrange a follow-up appointment with your child's surgeon and pediatric cardiologist for one week after surgery.

You should also arrange to see your family doctor or pediatrician two weeks after your child returns home from the hospital.