Your doctor will put you through a comprehensive examination prior to surgery which could involve x-rays and a variety of heart imaging tests and catheterization. Your blood will also be tested to ensure your kidneys are working as they should and to make certain you don't have any blood diseases [source: Harvard].
During surgery, your doctor will make a large cut in your chest and saw the breastbone apart to reach your heart. You will be hooked to a heart and lung machine which will keep the proper amount of oxygen in your blood and continue to pump blood throughout your body. Once the heart and lung machine is working, your surgical team will cool your heart and stop it briefly so the muscle can be cut and the diseased valve removed. The new valve will then be stitched into position. Next, your heart will be warmed, allowing it to begin beating again. If it doesn't immediately begin beating, it may need to be electrically shocked. Once your heart is again pumping and it's clear that everything is working properly, the heart and lung machine will be removed and the primary part of the surgery will be complete. That may sound a little frightening, but understand that other, less invasive types of heart replacement valve surgery are currently being tested [source: Harvard].
After surgery, you'll remain in the intensive care unit for two or three days. Your doctor may choose to do further imaging tests on your heart at the hospital or wait until after you have gone home and recovered. This will help ensure that your new valve is operating as designed [source: Harvard]. It'll also be necessary to take blood-thinning medication for the foreseeable future. Your doctor will work to determine the proper amount of blood-thinner for your body.
Heart valve replacement isn't something you encounter every day, but with a little research and preparation, it doesn't have to be so scary. Read ahead for links, resources and lots more information below.
- Aranki, Sary, MD. MedscapeEducation. "Heart Valve Surgery." June 30, 2006 (Oct. 7, 2011) http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/537652
- Bauder, David. "Barbara Walters' New Heart Surgery Special." Huffington Post. Feb. 2, 2011 (Oct. 9, 2011) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/02/barbara-walters-heart-special-drugs_n_817330.html
- Doheny, Kathleen. "Barbara Walters' Heart Surgery: Heart Specialists Say Procedure is Common, Outlook Good." WebMD. (Oct. 9, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20100511/barbara-walters-heart-surgery
- Harvard Health Publications. "Heart Valve Replacement." (Sept. 30, 2011) http://www.bing.com/health/article/harvard-1000244402/Heart-Valve-Replacement?q=heart+valve+replacement
- HealthGrades. "Heart ValveReplacement." (Sept. 30, 2011)
- Mayo Clinic. "Heart Valve Surgery." (Sept. 30, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.org/heart-valve-surgery/
- MedlinePlus. "Heart Valve Surgery." (Sept. 30, 2011) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002954.htm