At home after heart surgery

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Learn what to expect in the weeks and months after a child's heart surgery and how you can help your child to go back to a normal life.

Key points

  • Even after going home, it is normal for children to deal with the effects of being in the hospital for a while.
  • It is important that your child’s teachers know about your child’s heart condition and what it will mean for school activities.
  • Children must be regularly monitored, even if treatment was successful and they are feeling healthy, because the heart can change over time.

Your child will need care and support from you and the treatment team immediately after heart surgery and in the longer term. In this section, you’ll learn about some of the issues involved after surgery and how to deal with them.

Recovering from heart surgery

When your child’s surgery is over, the surgeon will tell you all the details of how the surgery went and what you can expect. Your child will be taken to the Cardiac Critical Care Unit.

They will be groggy as the anaesthetic wears off. Depending on the type of operation, your child may be attached to a number of machines to support them. They will be removed from the machines when the doctor is satisfied with their condition.

You may be surprised, and perhaps worried, when you see your child after surgery. They will probably be very weak and pale. The nurse can tell you more about their condition and what to expect. How long they spend recovering depends on the severity of the condition your child is being treated for and how well the surgery went, among other factors.

You can help your child by being by their side when they wake up, being comforting and reassuring, and by speaking to them in a soothing voice. Encourage your child to eat and to be as active as possible, according to direction from the doctor and physiotherapist. This will help speed along recovery.

Going home after heart surgery

Most children recover from heart surgery in about 5 to 7 days. They are generally back to their usual routines in about 4 to 6 weeks.

Before you leave the hospital with your child, the treatment team will explain:

  • what to expect during the first few weeks
  • how active your child should be during this period
  • how you can help your child when they are in pain
  • when your child needs to come back for a visit to check on their recovery and overall progress
  • whether your child needs to do exercises at home to help improve their physical abilities
  • who to contact if you have any questions

Some children leave the hospital and return easily to their normal daily routines, but most do not get over the effects of being in the hospital for a while. It's common to notice changes in your child's behaviour when you return home, even if your child's surgery was minor. Your child may need extra comforting and understanding for a short period of time.

Going back to school after heart surgery

After 2 weeks, most children are usually ready to return to school, if they aren’t having other treatments. The decision about when to return to school, however, is really up to the child and the parents. Your child might begin by going to school for half a day. The cardiologist will explain when your child can begin activities such as sports again.

While your child may have had tutoring in hospital and/or at home, and may have had classmates kept them in touch with the latest developments, returning to school part time or full time can be challenging and tiring. For these reasons, you may need to take a greater role in your child’s schooling from now on.

It is important that your child’s teachers know about your child’s heart condition and what it will mean for school activities. Your child’s treatment team can help you prepare this information for your child’s school.

After your child has recovered from heart surgery

It is very likely that your child will need to have regular follow-up for the rest of their life. How involved the care needs to be depends on the type of condition they have and how successful treatment was. It's important to have your child regularly monitored, even if treatment was very successful and your child is feeling healthy, because the heart can change over time. Also, because treatment for paediatric heart conditions is still fairly new, doctors need to keep a close eye on the potential long-term effects.

Your child also needs to take care of their health by:

  • eating a balanced, nutritious diet
  • staying as active as possible, within the limits set by their doctor
  • avoiding smoking, alcohol, and illicit drugs
  • avoiding too much sun exposure, especially if they are taking certain medications
Last updated: January 15th 2010