Restarting The Heart After Surgery… A Fear For Barbara’s Husband

I’ll never forget my reaction when Doctor Vaughn Starnes explained to me the procedure for cooling, stopping and restarting my heart.

“So let me get this straight,” I emphatically questioned the gray-haired guru, “You’re going to stop my heart, cool it, fix it and then restart it using an electric shock?”

Doctor Starnes paused, looked calmly into my eyes and then replied with a simple, unemotional one-word response, “Yes.”

“Ohhhhhhhhh-kaaaaaay,” I slowly muttered in a humble daze as I pondered the magic of modern medicine.

Dr. Vaughn Starnes Using A Defibrillator To Restart Patient’s Heart

After this doctor-patient exchange, I processed the facts quickly. My sternum would be broken. My heart would be stopped. I would be put on a heart-lung machine. My heart would be cut. My aortic valve would be replaced. Then, my heart would be restarted with a defibrillator. Needless to say, those facts generated MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF FEAR in me.

Today, I know this fear is common in most patients and most caregivers. Barbara just wrote to me, “Adam – I am writing because my husband is scheduled for aortic valve replacement in two weeks. He has some fears even though we have confidence in his surgeon and cardiologist (Richard Shemin will be his surgeon at UCLA, and Larry Yeatman is his cardiologist at Santa Monica- UCLA). His fear is that his heart will not start-up after it is stopped during the surgery.” Barbara concluded with, “Is this a common fear?”

As I have written before, fear can be transformed into a helpful acronym – F.E.A.R = Fantasized Experiences Appearing Real. On that note, you should know that I have yet to personally hear of one patient whose heart failed to restart following cardiac surgery.

I hope this helps decrease the fears associated with hearts failing to restart following heart valve surgery.

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of

To learn how Adam has helped millions of people with heart valve disease, watch Adam's video, subscribe to his free newsletter, or visit his Facebook, or Twitter pages.

  • Becca Allison

    I don’t have the facts (Adam probably does) on how many successful restarts there are after surgery; I just know mine started back up without a hitch and two weeks after surgery (aortic replacement)is still going! It’s amazing how many are just fine, but doctors have been doing open heart surgery for over twenty-five years! Best advice is – get facts, but don’t dwell on them overmuch. You have chosen the best surgeon you can. When worry pops up, just reassure yourself as best you can. Prayer works really well for this, and if you have folks who will lay hands on you and pray for you, all the better. Let go of trying to control the operation – you can’t – and trust those who are doing it.
    I’m doing great after my surgery! You will, too.

  • Dave Richards

    That acronym is spot on. I myself am the proud owner of heart that had a double valve reconstruction four weeks ago. After being diagnosed with MVP six years ago, my doctors told me that I would require surgery at some point in my life. Eight weeks ago, the prolapse worsened and the inevitible came to fruition. F.E.A.R. took hold of me as I told myself I was facing my own mortality. My surgeon pulled me out of that tailspin with his calming self-assurance and incredible humanity. Adam’s book, a comprehensive insiders look at what we’re all facing or have gone through, also helped to lessen the fear and mystery of the whole process. Can we talk? Without surgery, what’s the prognosis? If the answer is “not so good”, then get ready to be happy. You are truly blessed, you are lucky to be the beneficiary of groundbreaking procedures pioneered by surgeons 30 years ago and improved upon ever since. If it were 1975 right now, most of us probably would have required a heart transplant. My god, can you imagine going through such a thing and just how lucky each and every one of us are? Barbara, everything will be OK.

  • Alicia

    Hi, my name is alicia I had a tumor removed from the surface of my heart and lungs. I wonder when doctors stop my heart was I considered dead or unconscious. My heart was with restarted a defibrillator. Can someone answer this question?

  • Karen Sanchez

    ACLS teaches not to shock asystole. In surgery though that is how you restart the heart if it doesn’t start beating spontaneously from warmed blood circulating. Why does shocking the asystolic heart restart the heart if it’s true asystole ? Thank you. for the answer. KS

  • Adrienne

    My dear friend, 27 years old, died in the hospital 2 weeks after her valve replacement surgery. Her heart would not start beating again and for those 2 weeks she was kept alive on heart lung machine. she acquired pneumonia, ect over those 2 weeks and passed away. during surgery her heart was stopped for at least 6-8 hours. The surgeon tried repairing the valve, couldn’t so decided to replace it. it’s been heavy on my hear and mind if this happened due her heart being stopped to long or a mistake made by the surgeon.

  • Robert Sledz

    Adam, thank you for your op-ed. It has really relieved my fears. I’m having open heart surgery (aortic aneurysm valve replacement) in September and was petrified. You helped me understand things. Thank you. !!

  • Wendy May Teresi

    Hi Adam,

    My husband who is 56 had open heart surgery 2 weeks ago. He is doing pretty well. But seems to be abit touchy gets really short with answers. Also jumps and twitches really bad when going to sleep now. Is this normal ?

    Thanks for all your info I read it and it helps me.

    Wendy T

  • Sherry

    3 weeks from now i have mitral and aortic valves replaced. Restarting of heart is really the only part that scares me for the most part. Trying to remain calm.

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