What Does Infant Open Heart Surgery Look Like?

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Many parents with a baby who has a congenital defect in the heart often wonder, “What does infant open heart surgery look like?” An understanding of the procedure should enable anyone to visualize how the operation looks like. The operation is used for repairing heart defects such as Tetralogy of Fallot and ventricular and atrial septal defects, among others. Most of the corrective procedures for these complex anomalies require the opening of the heart.

Infant open heart surgery refers to a procedure done on the heart of an infant using a heart bypass machine. The machine temporarily relieves the heart of its functions and provides the body with oxygenated blood. A solution is usually administered to stop the heart. This is a cold and high potassium solution which protects the heart muscle while the organ is stopped.

What Does Infant Open Heart Surgery Look Like?

In order to access the heart, a surgeon has to open it. The sternum or breast bone has to be cut through so that the surgeon can access the heart. The procedure is called sternotomy. This usually raises much concern for many parents. However, it is considered as one of the safest incisions performed in a surgery. Sternotomy is repaired like an artificial fracture where the edges of the breast bone are joined using steel wires at the end of the procedure. This usually will not result to any deformity in the chest wall.

Pain often arises from any movement at the area of fracture in the bones. Infants usually lack muscle mass in the chest wall to push the sternal edges and feel the pain. Thus, most infants are discharged and given with simple medications such as Tylenol after the procedure.

Removal of Thymus Gland

Once the chest has been opened, surgeons will remove either a part or the entire thymus gland. While the thymus gland is part of the immune system, there has been no indication that removal of the gland will compromise the immune system of the infant. The removal of the gland will also allow the surgeon to operate on the heart.

Operating on the Heart

The heart is located in the pericardium, a thin and leather-like sac. In order to access the heart, the pericardial sac needs to be opened. The surgeon usually removes a small part of the pericardium, and used later on for patching defects in areas of the heart. The removed piece is often treated with a solution that can make the pericardium stiffer and thus easier to use later on.

The removed piece is then utilized in the operation to patch a variety of defects in the heart. There is usually no need to replace the pericardial sac which was removed. But in some instances, a piece of synthetic material can be used to replace the used pericardial sac.


Cincinnati Children’s: Open Heart Surgery

WebMD Video: Infant Open Heart Surgery