Congenital Heart Surgery

After Congenital Heart Surgery

After surgery, your child is taken to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) by the surgical team.

Once in the CICU, a thorough report of the surgical procedure is given to the intensive care team. The surgeon updates you on the surgery once your child is settled. You can usually visit your child about 1 hour after his or her arrival to the CICU.

The CICU is open to visitors 24 hours a day (except during emergencies). No more than 2 visitors are allowed to be at the bedside at a time. No children under 14 are allowed on the 18th floor of Texas Children’s Hospital, and during cold and flu season there may be more restrictions to those who visit. A limited number of rooms are available for overnight stays, and these are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

While in the CICU, your child’s heart rate, heart rhythm, respiratory rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation are monitored closely. A chest X-ray and lab work are performed on arrival and periodically throughout the stay in the CICU.

The CICU team continually assesses your child’s comfort level. Medication is given to reduce any pain or anxiety after surgery. These medications initially are given intravenously, then given by mouth or stopped. You can help your child feel more comfortable by talking quietly, even if the breathing tube is still in place and your child can’t speak. Hearing your voice can still be very reassuring to your child. Other comfort measures such as listening to soft music and regularly changing position in bed may also decrease anxiety or pain.

Once your child is awake enough to breathe independently, the breathing tube is removed. Depending on the surgery, this may be in the operating room or a few days later. Eventually, the surgical dressing is removed, and the incision remains open to air. The nurses clean the incision with a rust-colored antiseptic solution twice a day, and a small gauze dressing is placed over the insertion sites of the chest tubes, intracardiac lines and pacing wires. The tubes, wires and intravenous lines are all gradually removed.

When your child has a stable blood pressure, a stable heart rate and rhythm and can breathe well without the ventilator, she or he is transferred to the cardiac inpatient floor on the 15th floor of West Tower. As your child improves, activity level will increase until your doctor authorizes hospital release.

Before leaving, you’ll receive instructions about how to care for your child at home, including information on medications, incisional care and activity limitations.

Things to watch for after your child is home

Before your child is discharged from the hospital, the family is given instructions for his or her care.

In general, you should contact your child’s doctor if any of the following occurs in the six weeks after congenital heart surgery:

  • Altered mental status, excessive fatigue
  • Feeding and/or eating problems
  • Fever
  • Prolonged or worsening pain
  • Redness, swelling or oozing/bleeding from incision