“When Is The Heart And Sternum Healed?” Asks Kerrigan

Earlier today, Kerrigan and I exchanged emails about the recovery from open heart surgery. Specifically, we discussed the physical healing of the broken sternum and the heart.

In one of his emails, Kerrigan wrote, “I was wondering how long after surgery is the heart considered “healed” as far as the incisions and reattachment of aorta? Thanks, Kerrigan”

Open Heart Surgery Diagram With Chest Retracted

While I have some pretty good thoughts, research and experience on the healing time required for a stitched heart and broken sternum, I am ALWAYS APPREHENSIVE about issuing estimates for patient healing and recovery.

“Why?” you may be wondering.

Well… Healing and recovery is a personal, patient process. Some patients heal faster than others. And, conversely, some patients heal slower than others. I’m a good example. I was told by many people that I’d be fully recovered 8 weeks after the operation. Guess what? In my case, that was grossly inaccurate.

For this reason, I asked Kerrigan to contact his medical team to get their opinions on sternum and heart healing.

Kerrigan Discusses Heart And Sternum Healing
Kerrigan – Heart Valve Surgery Patient

Shortly afterward, I received an interesting, follow-up email from Kerrigan that states, “Hi Adam: I had my baseline echocardiogram yesterday and the valve is doing fine, everything within parameters.  The heart is slightly enlarged which is common with older patients who have a congenital defect. I asked about heart healing and was told that at 6 weeks the heart is considered fully healed.  The sternum is considered fused enough for weight restrictions to be lifted at 3 months and completely rejoined at 6 months. The important cardiac rehab classes continue at 3 times a week now for my 12 week program. Thanks again for your website and your book!”

While Kerrigan’s note offers good, clinical insight into his original questions… Please, please, please remember that each patient case is unique and that healing rates vary patient-by-patient.

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 HeartValveSurgery.com.

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.

  • Larry Starbuck

    I was wondering why Barbara Bush had the full sternotomy surgery given the availability of the minimally invasive operation.

  • Winona Blake

    Interesting question, Adam.
    When I was in cardiac rehab, one of the senior nurses told me that she had been asked by a senior cardiac surgeon what her experience has been with the time that it takes for open heart patients to be really healed from the surgery. She has also worked with patients longterm in the health and exercise program that is affiliated with the hospital, where many patients go after cardiac rehab. She said that she told him 12 months to really heal. I have heard that many times.
    My primary doctor said that it takes that long for the scar in the heart to completely heal, because that tissue never has an opportunity to rest. she used the metaphor that a sprained wrist heals faster than a sprained ankle because we can rest the wrist, but have to keep using the ankle to get around.
    That makes sense to me.
    I just celebrated my 6 month anniversary from Mitral Valve repair, at age 71. I think about the above info when I have pushed myself too much and then pay for it. Helps me to be patient and let myself continue the healing process.

  • SpikeSpriesterbach

    My cardiologist told me the heart normally takes about 6 months to fully accept the handling and new parts ( mine was a porcine mitral valve and Maze procedure) and the sternum was fully recovered in a year.

  • jerry

    Excellent question and response, thanks.

  • Edmund Tagliamonte

    If anyone thinks that it takes less than a year to heal from the over all procedure they are sadly mistaken. Be they doctor, or patient. I was reborn on July 16 2008. New aortic valve and, mitral vavle repair. I was 79 years old on that day.

  • Nancy Scbarf

    I had a mitral commissurotomy with the sternum opened when I was 36. At the time, with children ages 6, 4, and 4 mos. All seemed to have completely healed within 3 months as I was then instructed only to have yearly Dr. visits. I’d say this was a quick recovery.
    I then had my mitral valve replaced 7 yrs. ago, at Northwestern in Chicago. I was 65, The post-op care was not good and I had many many complications. My local cardiologist, Dr. David Beiser, took charge and actually saved my life; for which I am very grateful. This surgery took me 3 months of steady care before having 3 month intervals between Dr. visits. After 1 year, Dr. Beiser recommended a pacemaker be inserted, since I did not have the energy to do my required walking. Since my recovery from that (probably 6 weeks) I have been able to walk daily as well as exercise in the water several times a week. All Drs. say I am fine at this time. My only real problem is working to keep my weight down at a healthy level.

    My comment is this: Do all the research you can, before surgery. It is not only important to have the best fit in surgeons. The hospital care, after surgery is very very important.

  • Ross Parrott

    Does anyone please have a definition of what fully healed means.

    Does it mean:
    1. being able to live the life one had before (1 year say) your operation, without pain, breathlessness, fatigue and fully healed sternum scar (except for the purple line)? or

    2. able to exercise at a specified rate without exceeding a specified pulse?

    3. being able to exercise as before but without risking damage to the heart tissue, the sternum scar and the sternum proper?

    4. the time when the patient can legally drive a car?

    5. other?

    It is an important definition because it also specifies the rate at which
    the patient can fully get on with life.

    I am now on 14 weeks post – op and walk about 2km up a grade of about 3 degrees twice a week and swim 600m x 3 times a week. My heart is still in controlled arterial fibrilation (irregular beat, pulse only 85 after breakfast) and I experience mild tightness (not pain) in my chest after only 100m of walking.

    The cardiologist (satisifed with TEE result) and GP are no help.

    I just hope my exercise is not doing any damage or delaying complete recovery.

  • tom lamont

    I was under the impression that my sternum would be healed in 3 months after surgery. It is now 3 months, but there remains some discomfort when sleeping in certain positions. I tried hitting golf balls and there was some residual discomfort. I also find some numbness on the left side of my chest.

  • jeff stoveken

    my sternum hurt for the first month. after that i only felt discomfort at times. its been approx 6 months now and i recently over did it with my snowblower. ive had minor pain at times since that day and i realize now that i shouldve refrained even though i felt great beforehand. my advice is to start out slowly and try to remember that youve had major surgery (easy to forget the better you feel).otherwise mine has felt fine. i am able to perform all of my normal household chores. firewood stacking etc. jeffstoveken@yahoo.com

  • Jennifer From Charlotte

    I think everybody heals differently. But more than a year after my open heart at 32, my sternum proper shifted. I had a cat-acan and it confirmed that I have a divett or small valley. My sternum moved apart and the wires are holding it together. If and when I ned to replace my mitral valve and have open heart surgery again; I will requests my wires to be double tied. Take care

  • Kerrigan

    I think it’s important to say the doctors and professionals I’ve spoken to about my own healing and recovery always preface their comments with “everyone heals at a different rate”. Following the discharge guidelines the hospital gave me post-op has been important for me in my own work to recover at a reasonable pace.

  • cecilia esco

    i just want to have an idea about mitral valve replacement because my husband had a surgery 5 months ago.so far he is doing good but easily cath colds and cough his doctor says its due to allergy. sometimes he takes his allergy medication prescribed by his doctor. how long it will take him to drive again. he is hesitant to do his usual activities

  • Ina Buysse

    I had an aortic valve replacemnet in July of 2008. Almost 10 months ago! I am still experiencing sternum discomfort. I would like to know how many other people have experienced this slow of healing and if perhaps I am doing something wrong. My husband is disabled with MS so I did not have alot of help after surgery. I did have help for the first 2 weeks. Also I still have breast tenderness. Please give me a ray of sunlight here. I need to know that this is will come to an end! My kidneys, pancreas and thyroid also quit functioning correctly before surgery. They are now just back to normal. Has this ever happened to any one else?

  • Carol Lang

    Dear Ina,
    My AVR was in June 2008, so I can totally relate to your discomfort question. There are still times, “when I least expect it”, that I am reminded that I have had this surgery. It might be just taking out the garbage & lifting it into the bin, closing my glass sliding doors, or picking up my 22 lb. Boston Terrier. I have been repeatedly told that it takes 1 full year to completely heal. You are not doing anything wrong. Time is a great healer. Let us all know how you have progressed in July of 2009. I’m guessing those few months will make a world of difference! Until then, “chin up” & “chest out”!

  • fred

    I had it done five weeks today it was an eight hour operation.
    I went home from hospital 3 1/2 days later a day after getting out of intensive care unit
    My questions are when would it be safe to drive and also get on my lawn tractor to mow the lawn
    I’m not the type to just sit around and do nothing, I’m going nuts
    I’ve been off strong medications for four weeks
    I’m due to see the doctor July 31st, the surgeon discharge me one week after I left the hospital when the staples came out

  • Patricia Brown

    My mitral valve repair was completed over eight months ago, I am in pain nearly daily in my sternum. It was a great relieve to read other heart valve patients comments; this is real verification that I am not alone in the recovery process.
    After being informed the sternum would heal in six to eight weeks…I am now at eight months post-op, to find out that healing can take up to a year. Great to know and hear from other cardiac surgery patients in my same position.

  • Patricia Brown

    Healing on the sternum after mitral valve repair surgery. It is enlightening to read other patients comments; Please see above.

  • Paul D

    I Am at 26 days post -op .I am walking a mile 4 days a week .Weeding my garden and not lifting anything over 5-7 lbs.I am 54 yrs.young and impatient .I am drinking protein drinks like crazy because my viisiting nurse said this would accelerate healing time.I had double by-pass.and off hydros .The incision still hurts from the inside out and under a seat belt ..I smoke 3 cigs a day and want them out of the picture ,,will they hinder my healing significantly?

  • Same Old Guy Still

    I am looking into this on behalf of my mother. Her sternum did not heal properly and will probably need surgery; there is a noticeable grove where it was cut and it is painful for her. This is from 4 years ago and we live in Canada, any help or ideas? Surgery was done on a collapsed artery, her heart is good, so making an effort to help her is not a waste of time or money, she’s a great gal and has a lot of years left to her. Maybe a nice Dr. can pull some strings for me please?

  • hal_kegley

    8 weeks into recovery from CBG4 open heart. I think recovery is part of your condition and part what you make it. Eat healthy, heart diet within reason, strive to return to your normal chores listening to your body to tell you if you overdo. I encourage you to be all you can be, and be happy with that. Life for me is grand, back to work, doing rehab, following dr’s orders. Showing caution with every new thing I do. Good luck, and God Bless to all.

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