Samantha Asks, “Will My Mom’s Heart Stop During Valve Replacement Surgery?”

In an email, Samantha writes, “Hi Adam – I’m freaking out right now. My mother was just told that she will need open heart surgery to replace her mitral valve. I am on ‘information overload’ as I’m surfing the Internet like crazy. I’m trying to better understand the surgical process. Is it true that the heart is stopped during a valve replacement operation? If so, how do they stop the heart?”

Thanks for writing Samantha. I had this exact question as I was getting ready for my aortic valve replacement surgery.

The answer to your first question is “Yes, most likely, your mother’s heart will be stopped during her mitral valve replacement.” However, you should know that there are a number of heart surgery procedures in which the heart does not necessarily have to stop beating.

As for your second question, “How will the surgeon stop your mother’s heart?”, a very unique cooling process will be used to stop your mom’s heart. According to the Texas Heart Institute, cooling techniques let surgeons stop the heart for long periods of time without damaging the heart tissue. So you know, cool temperatures avoid damage to the heart tissue by reducing the heart’s need for oxygen. The heart may be cooled in 2 ways:

  • Blood is cooled as it passes through the heart-lung machine. In turn, this cooled blood lowers body temperature when it reaches all of the body parts.
  • Cold salt-water (saline) is poured over the heart.

After cooling, the heart slows and stops. Injecting a special potassium solution into the heart can speed up this process and stop the heart completely. The heart is then usually safe from tissue injury for 2 to 4 hours.

I would imagine your next question would be, “How the heck do they restart my mom’s heart again?” Well, to answer that question, please click this link – Restarting The Patient’s Heart During Valve Replacement Surgery.

I hope the above information helped you better understand how the heart is stopped during valve replacement operations.

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 know you must be worried right now, but let me just reassure you a little. There are huge numbers of these valve replacements done each year, and the vast majority go just fine. Open heart surgery has been done successfully for over 25 years. I appreciate your wanting to know as much as you can, but be careful not to scare yourself with too much information. I almost did!
    A month ago I had my aortic valve replaced. Everything went fine, and I am doing great. A few nights ago I let myself think about what was done during surgery, and it scared me, even though all went well! So don’t dwell on it overmuch!
    Best thing you can do for your Mom right now is act confident when you’re with her and try to reassure her it will all go well, because it most probably will. Being upbeat and optimistic really aids in recovery.
    We’ll be praying for you and your Mom! Let us know how it goes!

  • Michelle

    When my daughter was 20 months old, she was put on a bypass machine and her heart was stopped for her open heart procedure. I asked alot of questions and wrote down pages of concerns I discussed with her doctors. I know this is your mom and you probably don’t want to discuss this with her, but maybe her surgeon will be willing to talk to you over the phone. Its been over 2 years since my baby’s open heart surgery and I still have the surgeon’s nurse’s direct number on my speed dial. I did alot of research and it eased my mind and heart, but you have to figure out what works for you. I made sure I had an open relationship with most of the staff involved in my daughter’s surgery. I really think that helped me not “freak.” It sounds like your mom has a great source of support from you. If it eases your heart and mind, find that doctor or nurse you can talk to. And write down questions or concerns, ask them for advice on your research. I found that the medical staff was very supportive as long as I informed them of what I was worried about. It did require patience and understanding from me; I had to realize they are busy and it may take a while for them to get back in touch with me. I learned that my husband was the type that wasn’t overly concerned with the process, he just wanted to get our daughter fixed and back home, I was different. I wanted to know everything I could. We hid our fears from her and was very “confident” in front of her, but we shared our fears with each other. You’ll have to find someone you can do that with. I hope you find peace through this and know that there will be lots of prayers for you and your mom. Take Care.

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