FAQs about pediatric heart surgery

Photo of Doctor Sunjay Kaushal, M.D., Ph.D.

Pediatric cardiac surgeon, Dr. Sunjay Kaushal.


One of our most important jobs at the Children’s Heart Program is to help families understand what is happening to their child.  Here you will find answers to some of the most common questions families have regarding the care of their child after heart surgery.  If you have any questions that are not answered here, please feel free to speak with a member of the Children’s Heart Program by calling 410-328-4FIT.

How soon can I see my child after surgery?

After your child’s surgery, they will be brought to the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) on the “D” Wing of the 5th Floor of the Children’s Hospital. You will be able to visit with your child usually within an hour of the child’s arrival on the unit. 

What will my child look like after surgery?

When you first see your child they will still be under the effects of anesthesia and will appear as if they are asleep.  They may also look swollen or puffy or pale.  This can be expected for many different surgeries.  The time it takes for the swelling to go down depends on a number of things such as your child’s size and how long the surgery lasts.  There will be several tubes and wires attached to your child.  These may include:

  • An endotracheal tube or breathing tube inserted into the mouth or nose and attached to a ventilator to help your child breathe.
  • IV lines, which may be in the hands, arms, feet, neck or scalp.
  • A central line, which is a larger IV placed in a central vein to deliver medications, fluids and blood to your child.  It is usually placed in the chest or neck.
  • An arterial line, which is similar to an IV line. This special line allows us to continuously monitor blood pressure and to draw blood samples.
  • Chest tubes, which are soft rubber tubes attached to a bulb or suction canister to drain blood and fluid from the chest cavity.
  • Pacing wires, which are thin wires placed onto the heart and exit the skin in the lower chest area.  They can be used to provide electrical stimulation to the heart if necessary.
  • A catheter to drain urine from the bladder.
  • A nasogastric (NG) or nasojejunal (NJ) tube to drain fluid from the stomach and to provide liquid nutrition.
  • EKG leads (small stickers), which continuously monitor your child’s heart.
  • A pulse oximeter probe (usually on the hand or foot), which measures their oxygen level.
  • NIRS probes (heavyweight stickers) on the forehead and back, which measure the blood flow to the vessels in the brain and kidneys.

Where can I stay after surgery?

We know how much you desire to be with your child after surgery. We encourage you to visit as much as you want.  Due to limits on space, parents cannot currently sleep at the bedside in the first several days after surgery (our unit is moving in Fall 2013 where a parent can sleep in the room).  Once your child is stable (no longer on the ventilator, fewer IV lines) a sleep chair can often be placed in the room for one parent.  Prior to this time, you may use the sleep chairs in the Family Lounge on D Wing.  You may also stay in a local hotel or go home for the night.  If you live a far distance from the hospital, please ask to speak with our social worker to see if rooms are available at the Ronald McDonald House. It is important for you to remain well rested during this time. If you go home for the night, you can call your child’s nurse for updates any time.

Will my child be in any pain?

Your child's comfort is our priority; however, some degree of pain is expected with any surgery. Your child will likely be given pain medications continuously through their IV; some children also get pain medications while in the OR that last for a longer time. The nurse may also give extra doses of medication if your child appears uncomfortable. 

When can my child eat?

Eating is very individualized for each patient and depends on a number of factors. Your child will be given fluids and nutrition via an IV or through a NJ/NG tube. We encourage mothers who are breastfeeding to continue pumping and bring it to the unit for proper storage. The medical team can feed patients breast milk instead of formula when they are ready or able to feed.

When can I hold my child?

After surgery your child will have many tubes and wires attached to them. Some of those tubes, especially the breathing tube, need to be removed before it is safe to hold your child. We want you to comfort and bond with your baby. Please ask your child’s nurse to show you safe places and ways to touch your baby.

What other information should I know?

Please make sure to wash your hands or use hand gel sanitizer each time you come to your child’s bedside and every time you leave their room to prevent the spread of germs.  Please do not visit (or allow others to visit) if there are any signs of illness.  Your child may be sharing a room with another patient. Please keep talk and TVs to a low volume to foster a restful, healing environment.  Please remember to keep to TWO visitors at the bedside at a time so we have room to provide the care to your child. All visitors will be asked to provide photo identification upon entering the PICU; you may want to remind your friends and family. In general, children must be over the age of 12 to visit. 

This page was last updated: November 15, 2013

         
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