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 is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.