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

By Adam Pick on August 5, 2008

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!

Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick, Heart Valve Patient Advocate

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Becca Allison says on August 5th, 2008 at 6:01 pm

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 says on August 5th, 2008 at 8:32 pm

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 says on October 18th, 2010 at 6:26 pm

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 says on July 21st, 2013 at 10:01 pm

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 says on June 10th, 2015 at 5:48 pm

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 says on August 13th, 2015 at 11:42 pm

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 says on December 21st, 2015 at 11:16 pm

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 says on February 3rd, 2016 at 7:25 pm

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.

Ted says on September 17th, 2017 at 9:22 pm

wait a minute wendy you said your son scott had the heart surgery so actually it was john and you have been sleeping with him all these years?


Karin S says on February 13th, 2018 at 9:40 pm

My dad’s heart could not be restarted after being on a heart lung machine for an open heart procedure following aortic valve procedure that had complications. It was devastating devastating devastating and I am furious at he surgeon who f#*ked the whole thing up. He went in to replace the bad aortic valve, tore the strings what ever they’re called of the mitral valve and had to switch to open heart surgery to repair the mitral and replace the aortic valve. My dad was recovering from by-pass surgery (4-5 weeks post by pass) and had a history of aortic valve problems so the law firm I spoke with said it would be next to impossible to prove medical negligence or intent or what ever. When the procedures were completed my dad’s heart could not be restarted.

Ramen Quin says on March 4th, 2018 at 1:44 pm

Can someone tell me what has to be done if the heart won’t restart? I really need it for my creative writing. Thank you.

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