“Will The Surgeon ‘Ice’ My Heart During Surgery?” Asks Alma
I just received an interesting question from Alma about a critical step during heart valve repair and heart valve replacement surgeries. Alma writes, “Adam – I’m going in for surgery next week. Thanks to your book, my anxiety has greatly decreased. I’m curious… I know my heart is going to be cooled and stopped during surgery. But, will my surgeon actually put ice on my bare heart? Alma”
Coincidentally, I just took the picture below while observing a heart valve surgery last week. As you can see, the answer to Alma’s question is typically… Yes.
Ice Chips On Heart During Cooling Process
So you know, the heart is cooled to minimize its metabolic requirements and protect the heart muscle. In addition, a cardioplegia solution (which is a fluid with high concentrations of potassium and magnesium) is introduced to stop the heart completely.
It only takes about 30 seconds for the heart rate to drop to zero. I’ll never forget seeing the heart rate monitor of this patient plummet from 114 to 0 so quickly.
Interestingly, it’s not just the heart that is cooled during open heart surgery, the patient’s entire body is cooled via internal and external techniques. (Side Note: Please make sure to bring a jacket to the operating room if you ever observe a procedure. The operating rooms are quite cold!)
Surgeon Uses Defibrillator To Restart The Heart
Once the surgeon has completed the heart valve repair or heart valve replacement, the body is warmed and, if needed, the heart is shocked back into rhythm using a defibrillator.
I hope that helps Alma (and perhaps you) learn a little more about how the heart is cooled during open heart surgery.
Keep on tickin!
Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.