“How Long Were You In The Intensive Care Unit After Heart Surgery?” Asks Cindy

By Adam Pick on May 9, 2009

Cindy, from Illinois, just asked me a fantastic question about heart valve surgery and the intensive care unit (ICU).

Her email reads, “Adam – The time is finally here. After suffering from aortic stenosis for the past twelve months, I’m going in for heart valve replacement next week. Yes, I’m nervous. Yes, I’m anxious. Anyways, I have a question for you about the ICU. How long were you (and other patients) in the intensive care unit? I want to know what to expect and I want to make sure my family knows what to expect. Thanks, Cindy.”

To start, I want to acknowledge Cindy for asking an excellent question. In my opinion, expectation management is critical for patients and their caregivers. That said, I’d like to publicly say, “Great job Cindy!”


Me (Adam) In The Intensive Care Unit


As for Cindy’s question, I was in the intensive care unit for 24 hours following my aortic valve replacement at USC Medical Center in Los Angeles. However, just because I was in the ICU for one day, that does not mean all patients will have the same experience. (To learn more about aortic valve replacement, click here.)

If there is one thing I stress and re-stress to my readers, it is the fact that heart valve surgery is a personal, patient experience. While there are benchmarks to guide patients through that experience, please remember that your experience will be your own – especially during the recovery.

“How does that relate to Cindy’s question about time spent in the intensive care unit following heart surgery?” you might be wondering.


In the past four years, I have spoke with thousands of heart valve surgery patients. During the research for my book, I learned that some patients are in the ICU for only one day (just like me). Other patients, however, remained in the ICU for 2-3 days. Sometimes, if surgical complications occur, patients remain in the ICU for longer periods of time.

Again, the experience of heart surgery is personal. That is why, if I was to answer Cindy’s question, I would simply say, “It depends.” However, most of the patients I have discussed this topic with are in the intensive care unit for 1-2 days.

Luckily, a number of former heart valve surgery patients visit this blog. You can scroll down to read over 30 patient responses to this question.

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 HeartValveSurgery.com 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 HeartValveSurgery.com 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.

Geoff says on May 9th, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Hello All! I was in ICU (for a Minimally invasive mitral valve repair) for 16 hours. The big thing they pushed was walking and I started at 8am the next morning. BTW my 1 year anniversary was Wednesday :-).

Adam Pick says on May 9th, 2009 at 1:25 pm


And, thanks for sharing about your time in the intensive care unit!

Keep on tickin!


anita devine says on May 9th, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Hello Cindy,
My experience with minimally invasive mitral valve surgery was free of complications. So, I was in the ICU for 12 hours, and 3 of those hours the hospital personnel were waiting for a bed for me on the Cardiac Step-down Unit.
I continue to progress very well; it has been 6 weeks since my surgery. I am walking one hour a day and even doing moderate gardening work. I will return to work this week.
Cant wait for my 1 year anniversary…. congratulations to you Geoff!

Terry says on May 9th, 2009 at 2:52 pm

After mitral valve repair and maze procedure, was in the icu for two days –
lots and lots of tubes and iv’s, but don’t remember much else. My family was allowed pretty much unlimited visitation, and my husband stayed in the room with me (all rooms, even in the icu, were private) – and my husband tells me the nursing care was superb.
So, don’t worry. You get moved out when you are ready. Everyone is different.

Charlene Melcher says on May 9th, 2009 at 3:59 pm

I was in intensive care for 2 1/2 days and only 6 days in the hospital total. I had an aortic valve repair as well as an ascending aorta replacement including the arch. It will be 8 months tomorrow and I am doing great.

Midge says on May 9th, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Cindy, I’m originally from Peoria, IL. Sure do miss the midwest folks…they are a wonderful breed unto themselves.

I had an aortic valve replaced on 2/13/09 (Friday the 13th no less) after also having waited a year from original diagnosis. I was in the ICU from Friday after surgery until late Sunday evening. (My husband left me at 8 PM Sunday in the ICU so it was sometime after that.) I have no memory of what happened in ICU (which is probably a blessing in disguise). My first real memories are from Monday afternoon, but all the nurses said this is not abnormal…some of the many drugs you get can do this. I also had some hallucinations, which are also not out of the norm.

Counting the day of surgery, I was in the hospital 10 days. I was up and walking to the bathroom by Monday afternoon and by Monday night took my first steps out onto the test track (hallway). Those first few days alot of time is spent sleeping or drifting in and out of sleep and walking and using your

There is pain involved with the incision but pain meds are usually readily available and don’t be afraid to use them because without them it is more difficult to be mobile and walk like you should. Eating is another matter–food tastes about like cardboard, especially since you are on a more bland cardiac diet. However, the second day I rediscovered milk (which I don’t normally drink) and it was OH SO GOOD. Probably drank more milk in a week than I usually do in a year.

Above all, remember this surgery is saving your life and the results for the aortic valve are so good and long lasting that there can be no doubt that this is what you need to be doing. Get all those positive thoughts coming your way from everyone you know. The anticipation of what is coming is really much worse that the actual process.

Take care! Midge

Linda Leslie says on May 9th, 2009 at 4:10 pm

I was in ICU for 7 days, but I got pneumonia and my lungs collapsed so they kept me aleep and on a ventilator. The same thing happened the last time only for 10 days. My first heart surgery a ross procedure I was only in ICU 3 days.

Maureen Spielman says on May 9th, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Congrats Geoff on the one year anniv.
Hi Cindy,
I just had Aorta Valve Replacement on April 13, 2009. I ended up being in CCU/ICU for 4 days. I had a complication with a clot in my leg during surery and I did not get off the ventilator until almost Midnight the night of my surgery.
I also had some heart rythm problems and had a temporary pacemaker. I thought I would only be in CCU for 1-2 days, but everyone is different.
The CCU nurses were amazing. I was up walking the next morning. If you have any questions from the female perspective, I’d be happy to answer them. Regards, Maureen Spielman (47 years)

Lloyd says on May 9th, 2009 at 4:44 pm


I read Adam’s book and I thought I would be in ICU for 1 to 2 days. My surgery ended around 4:30 PM and I woke up fully around 11:30 PM. I was overjoyed when the recovery room doctor removed the tube from my throat after a few minutes and they monitored me all night and moved me into a room by 7AM. I had the nurses get me up around noon for a very short walk and then I sat up in a chair until 10PM. My procedure was Aortic Valve and Aortic Root replacement. Best Wishes, you will be on your feet before you know it.

SpikeSpriesterbach says on May 9th, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I had my mitral valve replacement and Maze procedure performed at the Heart Institute unit of the Summerlin Hospital in Las Vegas in September of last year. There you are never moved from the private room you wake up in. You have 2 nurses assigned just to you for 24 to 36 hours assuming everything goes OK. After that you have the same nurses depending on the shift.

This continuity is great for your confidence of the quality of your care. I was in the hospital with this unit for 5 days.

Wilmer D. Brown says on May 9th, 2009 at 5:17 pm

With my Aortic valve replacement I was in ICU about 24 hours. I woke up with tubes down my throat, I was lucky enough to go back to sleep. The next time I woke up they were gone. But it’s like Adam said each person will be different. Wishing you God’s speed.

Adam Pick says on May 9th, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Thanks everybody!!!

I’m just getting back from a walk with Ethan (my new son), Robyn and Bonnie (my mother-in-law). I was so excited to see all the great comments and thoughts being posted above.

Also, thanks for stressing the ‘unique’ element of your surgical experience. As patients, we all have our own personal, heart valve surgery journey.

Keep on tickin!


P.S. Ethan is 5 weeks old today. I’m going to post some pictures shortly. He is absolutely “delicious” as Robyn would say. 🙂

Linda Leslie says on May 10th, 2009 at 9:26 am

I also had hallucinations and was hearing things, which is really scary. This happened in 2002 when I had my aortic root repaired. It did not happen when I had a ross procedure in 1994. The hallucinations and hearing things really scared my family. It continiued until right before I went home. I think it must be the drugs they use.

Joan Parkinson says on May 10th, 2009 at 10:32 am

Hi Cindy,
I had my aortic valve replacement Feb 28, 2009, 9am surgery and my husband tells me I got to the ICU about 2pm. I have no recollection of much for the next 12 hours including the removal of the breathing tube (thankfully). I was moved to the cardiac care unit at 4pm the next day, so 26 hours in ICU.
Good Luck
Joan Parkinson

Don Seale says on May 10th, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Hi, Cindy,

I’m a fellow Illinois resident, and just had my mitral valve replaced via a full median sternotomy at Illinois Masonic in Chicago on April 28th. I was in ICU for two days and in the hospital for a total of seven. I was out of bed and in a chair for breakfast the day after surgery! Whatever else you do, make sure you use the incentive spirometer after you come to and throughout your hospital stay. Have your family encourage you to use it at all times too. This will help you so much in your recovery. It is not pleasant, particularly initially, but will help your lungs overcome the trauma and help prevent fluid buildup, etc.

As Adam and others tell, everyone’s recovery is individual. As for me, the strongest pain med I have needed since release from the hospital has been a tylenol. If you have pain, though, you need to let your health care providers know! You have to take charge of your recovery. All the best to you as you have your surgery!!!

Maggie says on May 10th, 2009 at 4:33 pm

The main discomfort is when you first wake up and you find a big pipe in your mouth that goes down your throat to keep your lungs functioning. I also had my arms and legs tied up because apparently each patient wakes up at some point and tries to disconnect pipes and wires hanging all over the place.

Midge says on May 10th, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Linda L., it’s good to hear that other people do have hallucinations too. You are not kidding, they are scary…everything is so real. You’re in the middle of a hallucination and think it is real and then suddenly come to and realize it was not real. I had one where I though the nursing staff had moved me into this old patient room that was now being used as a store room so they could party in my room. I was really scared because I thought I was no longer hooked up to any monitoring equipment, I was thirsty and had to go to the bathroom but didn’t want to leave the safety of my bed. Luckily I drifted back into regular sleep and woke up in my safe and secure room, but I was really scared!

Allan says on May 11th, 2009 at 1:06 am

Hi Cindy

I had my aortic valve replaced via a full median sternotomy in October last year. I spent about 48 hours in ICU, and 5 nights in the general wards thereafter.

Best of luck!


Sarah in McKinney, Texas says on May 11th, 2009 at 5:48 am

At the hospital I went to (Baylor Heart Hospital of Plano, Texas), all rooms are ready to be an ICU if necessary at any time. So, after a morning surgery on 9/2/08, I went directly to my room, and the first thing I remember is asking the nurse at 4pm when I was going in to surgery. The sweetest words I have ever heard were “Oh, you already had your surgery, and it went great!”. I was walking by that evening, in the hospital for four days and recovery was easier than I expected. I was back to running three miles a day at the end of cardiac rehab in December. Good luck, pack your trust in your doctors, a sense of humor and you will be fine!

David Tungate says on May 12th, 2009 at 12:34 pm

My wife had a mitral valve repair a week ago. She was in the ICU at Hoag Hospital (California) for almost 2 days, but she had problems with breathing on her own and blood oxigen levels. Otherwise, I think they were prepared to move her out after 1 day. Good luck with your surgery!

Christine says on May 17th, 2009 at 7:04 am

Hi, I was in the intensive care unit for 3 days..but my hospital did not have a step down so I went directly to the cardiac care floor following ICU My surgury went well but I had a 30 pound wght gain from overload of IV fluid so I stayed in ICU so that they could more closely momitor. Total of 6 days in hospital. Please contact me if I can be of support thru your recovery. I would like to be of help to others that are going thru this. I am 16 months out from surgury and I fell really good but it is a process and as Adam states everyone is an individual but we are all here to help each other so don’t hesitate to make contact. I wish you the best. Christine

Adrian Bishop says on May 18th, 2009 at 11:07 am

Hi Cindy and Adam:

I had my aortic valve replaced almost 1 year ago now at Washington hospital Center in WDC. Dr Louis Kanda is my excellent surgeon … I was in Intensive care less than 1 day. I woke up the day after surgery on the ward in a semi-private room. My memories of the icu are pretty foggy. I do remember being there, and being pretty awed by the sight. It was a large round room, with an admin center at the center and patient beds pointing in toward it. Each of us had a nurse. My wife says mine was particularly attentive. I woke up from the anethesia, but then mostly slept. Throughout my whole experience in the Wash Hosp Center I fely totally cared for. It was really awesome. My best wishes to you with your procedure. Adrian B.

Dave McDonald says on May 18th, 2009 at 2:36 pm

So far, – I get the booby prize! 13 days in the I.C.U. I’m writing a book on ‘hallucinations from hell’. Full color in moving terror. I asked my surgeon why I spent so much time there the answer was straightforward,”…you wouldn’t wake up…”! Pnuemonia was some of the problem,- I suspect a large dose of anesthesia. I had depression big time for a month after.
It’s great to feel good again!

Arlene says on May 19th, 2009 at 2:00 pm

I was in ICU after aortic valve replacement, repair a hole in my heart and single bypass for 5 days.

Then in a regular room for 4 days.

Jim says on May 20th, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I had my aortic valve replaced three weeks ago yesterday with a St. Jude mechanical valve. I was in ICU for about 1 day. I was out of the hospital on the 6th day, the day before the 1 week aniversary of my valve replacement.

I had a lot of trouble the first few days with nausia due to the pain meds. I threw up in the ICU which wasn’t very plesent on my chest. I was also very agitated in the evenings the first few days. Most of my problems were related to pain management and reactions to pain meds.

All that said, I have been home for two weeks and am doing great! I am going back to work at my 5th week from surgery. I am an Airline Transport Pilot and jet instructor in simulators. I plan on getting my FAA medical certificate back in about 8 months.

Good luck. : )

pixie says on June 21st, 2009 at 3:14 pm

I’m struggling to come to terms with my boyfriends illness at the moment, and this site is really helping me out. My boyfriend has suffered from seizures after having previous surgeries, and i was wondering if anyone else had experianced the same??? I’m sorry if that’s a stupid question, i’m really worried and confused at the moment and i’m just trying to learn as much as i can to try and understand this better. Could you help me out???

brenda bakonyi says on July 4th, 2009 at 9:50 pm

i, , am post op now 11 weeks, I agree with all of you who complained of hallucinations, I had them bigtime, I had aortic replacement, mitral valv repair. I find that my bones are still very sore if you sneeze or yawn. I am from canada, I was in cardic recovery for 24 hrs then moved to ccu and was home after 8 days. I am not taking any more than 5 pills right now, when I came out of hospital I was taking 44 pills a day.hopefully in 1 mor month will be down to 3 pills a day. I have to go to rehab for 26 weeks, but the drs are having a hard time with my BP/192/120 so have to lay low for now.

Barbara Henry says on August 22nd, 2009 at 3:40 pm

I am delighted to report that I skipped ICU altogether and went straight to recovery, then a room. They expected me out of the hospital in 4 days, but I ended up staying 5 days. I was walking the first day after going to reg room. The doctors referred to me as their “Poster Child.” God is Great!

I am 13 weeks post op and doing great. I hope all goes well your way as well.


Barbara Henry says on August 22nd, 2009 at 3:54 pm

PS I forgot to mention I had an aortic valve replacement with an On-X mechanical valve (possibility of reduced anticoagulation medication). When I first woke up after surgery, my chest felt like a train had hit it and I was quite sore until the tubes were removed 2nd or 3rd day. After that, I was well on the road to recovery. I suffered no post partum blues or depression thanks to God and wonderful family support.

Mary says on August 31st, 2009 at 5:38 pm

I’m writing about my Mom; she had aortic valve replacement 5 days ago and someone is telling me it might be heart failure! The said the surgery was a success, but for the last 24 hrs she’s had low BP, 80 over 50, and atrial fib, so they gave her a cardio version. Her urine output was almost nil so they put the catheter back in. I’m concerned, can anyone help me understand these issues? Thank you! Mary, out of state daughter preparing to go take care of her.

Lucy Grubbs says on November 23rd, 2009 at 3:14 pm

i had surgery last monday and am at home today. i was in icu for less than a day arrived sleeping and left on tuesday afternoon. Adam’s book helped me immensely knowing that everyone is different, don’t worry if you have to stay later, just relax they know what they are doing. if they say you are staying a week, just plan for 10 days, i got out of the hospital friday, having had surgery 4 days earlier. take it easy, listen to any tips they give you, they’ve seen it many times. I am so glad now coming thru it and adam’s book i am impressed was in my head talking to myself, relax, relax, relax. and do walk as soon as they tell you to even if it hurts, it will hurt less later. push to walk only when they say it is ok, good luck

Kemal says on November 23rd, 2009 at 3:53 pm

I had to stay in the ICU for about 3.5 days after my mitral valve replacement surgery due to a number of complications including my lungs not working at full capacity for the first 48 hours or so (so I needed the breathing tube during that time).

Yes, everone’s experience is different.

Good luck!

Lilo Amundson says on November 23rd, 2009 at 5:31 pm

My husband had aortic valve replacement and maze procedure 5 weeks ago. He went into surgery at 7 am, into CCu at 1 and had the breathing tube removed by 4 pm. He was moved out of CCu after 24 hours, actually had to walk out of there with a walker. He really was not awake for the first 48 hours, fell asleep every time they put him into a chair. He had a lot less pain than we were told to expect. Total stay 8 days. Care in CCU and on the cardiac ward was superb!!

Kaye Denham says on December 8th, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Two weeks ago today I had aortic valve replacement (mechanical valve), an aneurysm repaired and 3 bypasses done. I was in CICU from surgery on Tuesday until Saturday morning. My oxygen level was not where they wanted and I had Atrial Fib. I received great care during my stay. My breathing tube came out sometime either late Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

paul says on December 15th, 2009 at 11:32 am

Good morning –

My sister was operated on the morning of October 19 at Yale New Haven Hospital. She had her mitral valve repaired by Dr. Sabet Hashim. In surgery 8:30 am out of surgery at 12:30pm. Arrived home from the hospital Thursday October 22 by 4pm. I can not say enough about the wonderful care she received.

My sister had to be hospitalized over the summer for 9 days to clear up a strep infection that led to her endocarditis. After that it was another 6 weeks of gentamiecen and penicillin which my other sister and I had to administer (the feeding we used to call them) thru a PIC line. Again the staff at Yale and the VNA service of Ct. were of tremendous help to my family during this time.

God bless themall!

debbie Berman says on December 15th, 2009 at 2:40 pm

I was in the icu for one day and moved to a step down room the next. I was in the hospital from Thursday until Tuesday during which time I experienced hallucinations that weren’t scary, but certainly an odd feeling. I just had my 1 year anniversary of mitral valve repair and I feel great. It took 2-3 months to really feel back to myself, but it does happen eventually and today it’s as if I never had the surgery at all. Be patient, walk often and take care of yourself.

Janie Niemiec says on December 22nd, 2009 at 1:52 pm

I was in ICU for two days after my aortic valve replacement (bovine). They kept me in an induced coma until I could breath without the breathing tube. I don’t remember anything about ICU. I do know that you really need to follow doctor and nurses orders. I did not walk as much as I should and I did not deep breath as much as I should and it kept me in the hospital one day longer. Keep walking in order to heal faster! It is now 3 months later and I feel fine! Even purchased a tiny gold cow bell to wear around my neck!

Tony Korwin says on December 30th, 2009 at 3:00 pm

a lot also depends on the needs of the hospital… when I was in, the hospital had an entire floor of heart ICU (20+ beds) and the week of my surgery there was not a lot of emergency traffic, so they just kept me in an ICU room for better monitoring..

doug livernois says on January 3rd, 2010 at 10:25 am

i have read your book and site with great interest..hada triple by-pass and aortic valve replacement 16 days ago at Emory in Atlanta..surgery performed by Dr.Chen in CCU 24 hours and returned home on day 5…a 3 hour 150 mile drive to my home in greenwood sc…..thus far recovering well…your book and site were most helpful in my preparation for the procedure..thanks to you and all who contribute..you and all are providing a most needed service….keep on ticking

nicola says on January 31st, 2010 at 7:37 am

Can anyone help? My Mum had a open heart mitral valve repair six days ago and is still in intensive care. Her kidneys are not working well and she is on dialysis as well as having low blood pressure and now seems to be mentally confused. Has anyone else heard of similar complications? I am so worried about her.

C says on February 11th, 2010 at 10:32 am

My dad had an aortic valve replaced two days ago. He came through the surgery fine but is having trouble with hallucinations/agitation so is still in ICU (his blood oxygen level is still a little low as well). He gets really agitated and confused. Medically they say he is doing fine but they haven’t got him up yet in part due to his confusion. They have him on Percoset and Morphine as the doc wanted his pain under control so his blood oxygen level would improve. It is really scary to see him like that but as long as medically he is fine and reading everyone’s different experiences I have faith that in the long run he will be ok.. it just might be a few more rough days for us. Thank you all for sharing your experiences as it really does help with expectation management… (However it is difficult to convince my dad that this does happen as everyone is different so I will try to share your experiences with him : )_).

Jesus Bortoni says on March 16th, 2010 at 10:18 pm

I was in ICU for a little les than 24 hours but in the hospital for ten days. Of course, I had an aortic valve replacement PLUS three bypasses that might have accounted for the additional time.

Ella says on January 17th, 2013 at 9:14 am

Hi all,

I need your info, my boyfriend had cardiac surgery yesterday.

what is the most dangerous about “after the surgery”?

what is the complication ?

as he lives in another country, i could not visit him at all. he was very scared.

need you info

thanks alot

Maxime desire says on June 1st, 2015 at 4:11 pm

My biggest problem after my st Jude valve replacement, I have been having seizure. I am lucky I am alive. If I know that I would have seizure after the surgery, I would never had that surgery. I regret this so much. Living with seizure is not fun. I will never be able to live without medicine for seizure.

Jayme Walters says on March 2nd, 2018 at 3:35 pm

I too… am very concerned about my boyfriend Tony. He had his mitral valve replaced one week ago today and he is still in ICU… Today they are reintubating him….Please pray

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