How Do Sternum (Sternal) Wires Work During Heart Surgery?
Although minimally invasive procedures are becoming more prevalent in the heart valve surgery community, open heart surgery via a broken sternum is still performed in most cases involving heart valve repair and heart valve replacement surgery.
That said, the sternum is “cracked” through a medical procedure known as a median sternotomy procedure. To learn more, click here.
Yes, I know…
The sound of that for a patient or a caregiver is tough to contemplate. I remember asking my cardiologist, “Ya ya ya ya mean that you’re going to crack my chest?” (That was a purposeful stutter intended to create drama by the way.)
Once you get over the fear, the reality sets. You think to yourself as you rub your chest, “Oh my gawwwwwwd. My sternum is going to be split! My surgeon is going to saw through my breast bone!”
Then comes the ultimate question, “How the heck are you going to keep my chestplate together once you fix my heart?”
The answer to that is sternum wires (also known as sternal wires).
As a double heart valve surgery patient, I can relate to this all too well!
FYI, the picture below is me one week after surgery. Obviously there are no sternum wires to be seen. Just a nice scar that measures nine inches. (So you know, my scar is almost invisible these days. Click here for my heart valve surgery pictures.)
Again, sternum wires (aka sternal wires) are used to close the breastbone following the surgical procedure on the heart. The chest is then closed with special internal or external stitches.
Interesting point to note… My incisional scar (on my skin) was not stitched together. That’s right. No stitches on my incision! Instead, Dr. Vaughn Starnes used a very strong type of glue to make the skin attach. Maybe that’s why my scar is barely visible these days.
I hope this helps explain how, at a high-level, your chestbone is re-positioned and secured following open heart surgery. Most of the time sternum wires (aka sternal wires) are used.
Keep on tickin!
Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.