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Cardiac Surgery

Heart Valve Surgery

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The heart contains four major valves that regulate the flow of blood through the heart so it can keep the body supplied with oxygen-rich blood.

When a valve does not open fully, a condition called stenosis results, in which blood has to flow through a smaller opening, making the heart work harder to push the blood through.

When a valve does not close tightly, the condition is called regurgitation. In this case, blood leaks backward through the valve and the heart has to move some of the same blood back through. Both stenosis and regurgitation can cause the heart muscle to weaken over time.

In some cases, the damaged valve may be repaired. In other cases, it must be replaced with a mechanical valve or a biological valve, taken from pig, cow, or human donors.

The Surgery

Access to the Heart
Generally, the surgeon makes an incision down the middle of the chest and separates the breastbone, or sternum, to get to the heart. After surgery, the breastbone is rejoined with wires or heavy suture and the incision is sewn up. In many cases, the breastbone heals in 6-8 weeks. Alternative approaches include minimally invasive surgery with smaller incisions between the ribs to allow access to the heart.

Circulating the Blood During Surgery
In order to perform the surgery without interference from the motion of the beating heart, the heart is stopped temporarily. A heart-lung machine takes over the function of supplying the blood with oxygen and pumping it back through the body. Once the surgery is over, the heart and lungs will take over again.

Repairing or Replacing the Valve
The surgeon opens a portion of the heart, exposing the malfunctioning valve, and repairs or replaces it. Once the valve is fixed, the heart is closed and resumes beating. The entire valve repair or replacement procedure usually takes 3-5 hours.

You're in Good Hands
You can feel confident knowing a skilled heart surgery team is performing your surgery. The team includes the heart surgeon and surgical assistants; several specially trained nurses; an anesthesiologist, who constantly monitors your anesthesia to help you sleep without pain; and a perfusionist, who operates the heart-lung machine. With the help of highly advanced technology, these specialists will ensure the safest possible surgery for you. For information on Montana Heart's exemplary surgery outcomes, visit our Outcomes page.

For important information on risks of and preparation for the surgery, see Before Cardiac Surgery.

For post-operative information, see After Cardiac Surgery.

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