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Preparing for Heart Surgery

What to Know Before Open Heart Surgery

Before surgery

For several weeks leading up to surgery, your doctor may ask you to quit smoking and eliminate alcohol use. This will help keep your immune system strong and improve liver function for a quicker post-surgical healing process.1 Some patient risk factors that affect breastbone healing include age, smoking and BMI.2 A heart surgeon may choose an improved method of breastbone closure, such as SternaLock ® Blu, to help promote improved healing.

It is important to ask your surgeon about what method of closure will be used on your breastbone. While your heart is likely repaired during surgery, your breastbone takes time to heal. The stability of your breastbone can influence your recovery. Greater stability allows the blood vessels to grow across the fracture, which is the key to carrying blood and nutrients to the bone. If those vessels keep breaking due to movement, it will take much longer for the bone to heal, potentially preventing healing from occurring.3

Preparing for hospital admission

Your doctor may instruct you not to eat or drink anything for a time period before your surgery. You must have an empty stomach going into surgery. Remember to bring all your regular medications to the hospital, even those that you were instructed to discontinue before surgery. You’ll be more comfortable if you remember to bring a lightweight robe, a nightshirt, slippers with nonskid soles, toiletries, glasses, etc.4

The admitting nurse will take you to your room and familiarize you with the hospital surroundings. There are numerous forms you will sign upon admission. The details may vary slightly from one hospital to the next, but certain forms are standard. To verify information about your health that you have already provided, the nurse and admitting staff may ask you several questions that you’ve probably answered before.4, 5 


Identify a point of contact 4

Make sure identify a point of contact to make medical decisions on your behalf and help relay your results to family members and friends. This person should also understand your sternal precautions and activity limitations to help you with your recovery at home. Sternal Precautions are preventative guidelines provided by your surgeon to protect the breastbone and reduce complications during the recovery process.

Before surgery, be sure to consider the support system you have at home. You will benefit greatly if you have some assistance for the first several weeks with cooking, bathing, housekeeping, errands, etc.

The hospital discharge planner, occupational therapist, and social worker can help you explore all your options for having assistance at home. You might discuss a home healthcare professional, visiting nurse, or other help. If an adequate support system at home is not available, you may want to consider going to a rehabilitation facility or nursing home during recovery.

What Happens During Open Heart Surgery?

After you are admitted to the hospital, you will be prepped for surgery. Using a needle, a small intravenous (IV) tube will be inserted into a vein in your arm. The tube will be used to administer antibiotics, pain medication, and fluids during and after your surgery. About an hour before the operation, your anesthesiologist will talk with you about the type of anesthesia you will receive. You may be lightly sedated before being taken to the operating room. 5

Be aware that the operating room can be a bright, cold, busy and loud place. A nurse will verify your identity and knowledge of the operation. Once the anesthesia takes effect, your surgical site will be sterilized.

During open-heart surgery, the surgeon will access your heart by creating a vertical cut down the center of your chest. In order to get to the heart, the surgeon will saw through the breastbone, also called the sternum. After both of those openings are made, the surgeons will proceed with the heart operation.5 Open heart surgery can take approximately three to six hours depending on the complexity of the procedure.6

Once the operation is complete, the surgeon will close your breastbone (sternum) with either wires or a rigid fixation system of plates and screws, such as SternaLock Blu. Learn how your bone heals.

  2. Fowler, Vance G., Sean M. O'Brien, Lawrence H. Muhlbaier, G. Ralph Corey, T. Bruce Ferguson, and Eric D. Peterson. "Clinical Predictors of Major Infections After Cardiac Surgery." Circulation. American Heart Association, Inc., 30 Aug. 2005. Web. 11 July 2017
  3. Shapiro, F. "Bone development and its relation to fracture repair. The role of mesenchymal osteoblasts and surface osteoblasts." European Cells and Materials 15 (2008): 53-76. Web.

The information herein is of a general nature and does not represent or constitute medical advice or recommendations and is for general education purposes only. The information includes descriptions of a medical device that a thoracic (heart) surgeon may choose for patients undergoing open-heart surgery.

Zimmer Biomet manufactures medical devices, including metal plates and screws that may be used by your heart surgeon to hold together the sternum (breastbone) after heart surgery. We do not practice medicine; all questions regarding your medical condition must be directed to your doctor(s).

Results with breastbone (sternum) plates and screws (rigid fixation) will vary due to health, weight, activity and other variables.  Not all patients are candidates for this product and/or procedure.  Only a medical professional can determine the treatment appropriate for your specific condition.  Appropriate post-operative activities will differ from patient to patient.  Talk to your surgeon about whether rigid fixation is right for you and the risks associated therewith, including but not limited to the risks of infection, implant wear, loosening, screw or plate breakage or incomplete bone healing. For a complete list of risks associated with Zimmer Biomet’s rigid fixation system, see Patient Risk Information.

The SternaLock Blu study was funded by Zimmer Biomet.

All content herein is protected by copyright, trademarks and other intellectual property rights, as applicable, owned by or licensed to Zimmer Biomet or its affiliates unless otherwise indicated, and must not be redistributed, duplicated or disclosed, in whole or in part, without the express written consent of Zimmer Biomet.

©2017 Zimmer Biomet