A coronary artery bypass graft, also known as a graft, is recommended for select patients with coronary artery disease and is the most common kind of open-heart surgery in America [source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute]. During the procedure, a breathing tube is connected to a ventilator that breathes for the patient under sedation. Once the heart is stopped, the heart-lung machine becomes completely responsible for the patient's blood circulation. A cardiothoracic surgeon (a surgeon who specializes in procedures to the chest -- including the heart, lungs, esophagus and their associated blood vessels) begins the operation by taking a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body, usually the leg. After making an incision in the chest, the surgeon will connect the healthy blood vessel to an artery in the heart. This way, blood bypasses the diseased or blocked area and the heart is restored with blood, supplying it with the oxygen and nutrients it was previously lacking.
Risks of complications are highest if the patient is a smoker, older than age 70 or if there is an emergency -- like a heart attack -- that complicates the surgery. For recovering patients, healing typically takes six to 12 weeks, and results are usually very good. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, after undergoing a coronary artery bypass graft, "85 percent of people have significantly reduced symptoms, less risk of future heart attacks, and a decreased chance of dying within 10 years."
A minimally invasive coronary artery bypass is a less invasive bypass surgery available to those who have a low risk for complications. Patients who undergo this procedure have blockages that can be bypassed through smaller incisions, and it can be performed while the heart is still beating, reducing the likelihood of complications. This surgery also reduces patient recovery time -- recipients of minimally invasive coronary artery bypass surgeries are usually able to leave the hospital in as little as three days. However, if a patient has more than one coronary artery to bypass, a more complicated procedure will be required.