Heart Valve Repair or Replacement Surgery: What to Expect

Sharp’s specialized team of health care professionals — including cardiac surgeons, cardiologists, nurses and board-certified pulmonologists and intensivists, who are doctors with specialized training in critical care — care for patients like you before surgery and through rehabilitation and recovery. Learn how you can prepare for your heart valve repair and replacement surgery and what to expect both at the hospital and once you are recovering at home.

Before Your Heart Valve Repair or Replacement Surgery

  • To prevent infections, all heart surgery patients are screened for methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) colonization prior to surgery by swabbing nasal cavities with sterile cotton swabs
  • You may be given an ointment to use in your nose for a few days prior to surgery as a precautionary measure against MRSA
  • Your physician may run the following tests to prepare for surgery: lab work, X-rays, electrocardiogram (EKG), echocardiogram
  • You will have an in-person appointment with Pre-Anesthesia Evaluation Services (PAES) to complete clinical paperwork and discuss your surgery with an anesthesiologist in order to provide you anesthesia in a safe and effective manner

Preparing at Home for your Heart Valve Repair or Replacement Surgery

  • Do not wear any jewelry as you will be asked to remove it upon arrival at the hospital
  • In the shower both the night before and the morning of your surgery, wash your body from the neck down with a special antibacterial soap (you will receive a bottle at a prior appointment), which will prevent bacteria and germs on your skin from invading your surgical incision

Upon Arrival at the Hospital

  • A hospital gown will be provided for you to change into
  • An IV will be started (most likely in your arm or hand) to give you medication and fluids
  • Catheters will be inserted (most likely in your neck and wrist) to monitor your heart and blood pressure
  • Our nursing staff will clean your skin with special disinfectants

During Your Heart Valve Repair or Replacement Surgery

  • An additional catheter will be inserted to drain your bladder during the operation
  • A specially trained anesthesiologist will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and blood oxygen level throughout the surgery
  • A tube connected to an oxygen machine will help you breathe during surgery
  • You will lie on your back on the operating table

While in the Hospital

  • After surgery you will be taken to the surgical intensive care unit (SICU), where our specially trained nurses will care for you
  • For a short time you may have a tube in your throat to assist breathing with a ventilator until the anesthesia wears off and you can breathe on your own
  • Our team of professionals make daily rounds to ensure that all of your needs are being met and that you are receiving the best care possible
  • Our team will monitor your vital signs throughout each day and monitor your heart rhythm continuously
  • Several IV tubes will provide you with necessary medications and fluids, a catheter will drain your bladder and a heart monitor will track your vital signs and heart while you recover
  • Your activity levels will slowly increase — starting with getting out of bed and walking around for periods of time
  • Your diet will be adjusted to maximize health and healing, and will start off with liquids and graduate to solid foods as you tolerate them
  • You will participate in physical therapy, and aim to be sitting in a chair to eat breakfast the first morning after your surgery
  • As you recover, you will move to the Progressive Care Unit (PCU) after a day or two, where our team of cardiac nurses, physical therapists, nutritionists and physicians will continue to assist in your recovery until you are ready to go home

Recovery at Home After Heart Valve Repair or Replacement Surgery
After your hospital stay (which should last about a week), you will be discharged home with a personalized plan of care. Your plan of care will include but is not limited to the following:

  • Be sure to keep the incision site clean and dry
  • Contact your physician if you experience fever; chills; redness, swelling or bleeding at the incision site; or extreme pain 
  • Do not lift, pull or push more than 5 to 10 pounds until given clearance by your surgeon — which means no lifting laundry baskets, small animals or any housework or yard work while you are healing
  • If necessary, any sutures or surgical staples will be removed during your follow-up doctor’s appointment
  • On average, patients return to work about 6 to 8 weeks following discharge from the hospital, but be sure to consult with your surgeon on when it is safe for you to return to your job
  • When riding in a car with passenger-side airbags, it is safest to sit in the backseat — the airbag deploy could damage your healing breastbone — but if you cannot comfortably ride in the backseat try to sit as far back as possible from the airbag compartment
  • You can shower daily but avoid soaking in the bathtub, hot tub or swimming pool until your incisions are completely healed
  • You  will not be able to drive until your surgeon has determined your breastbone has healed and it is safe for you to drive
  • You will receive an updated, accurate list of your medications and any prescriptions you require; be sure to bring your medication list to each follow-up appointment with your doctor
  • You will receive paperwork that includes the names and phone numbers of your physicians and when to make appointments — you will follow up with your surgeon about a month after you come home, with your primary care physician a couple of weeks after coming home

To learn caregiving tips, read How to Care for a Loved One After Heart Valve Repair or Replacement Surgery.

Heart Valve Repair or Replacement Surgery Centers in San Diego

  • Sharp Memorial Hospital Heart Valve Center

For More Information
To learn more about heart valve surgery at Sharp Memorial Hospital, send us an email and a cardiac specialist will contact you directly. To learn more about valvular disease, visit Heart Valve Diseases in Adult Health.

Find a Heart Valve Surgeon in San Diego
To find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego heart valve surgeon or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm.