First Things First: Before Surgery

Heart Surgery Guide: Before Surgery

Will it hurt? Can mom and dad be with me? How long will I be asleep?

Questions like these are easier to answer with the right information. What to tell a child about an operation depends on his or her age, emotional maturity and coping abilities.

Most importantly, be as open and honest with your child as possible. Use familiar words that are non-threatening and easy to understand such as “sore” instead of “pain” or “sleep doctor” instead of “anesthesiologist.” Talk about how the surgery will help your child. Let them know activities and school can be scheduled around their needs. The following tips will help guide your conversations, however, you know your child best, so do what’s most comfortable for both you and your child.

Siblings may have questions too – so be sure to keep them informed. Use simple and honest language that they can understand.

Preparing for Surgery: Age-Appropriate Tips

Infants and Toddlers

Very young children need little preparation. They do, however, pick up on parents’ feelings. If you are confident about the surgery, your child will feel reassured. Toddlers are learning how to develop their independence and how to make right-versus-wrong choices. They are gaining an increased sense of independence and self-control.

  • Prepare your toddler no more than a day ahead of time.
  • Focus on what the child will see, hear, taste, feel, etc.
  • Offer your toddler realistic choices: Which toy do you want to bring? Which ear do you want the nurse to look in first?
  • Explain what the doctor or nurse is doing using non-threatening terms your toddler will understand.

Preschoolers have very active imaginations. Sometimes they have a difficult time understanding the difference between reality and fantasy.

  • Prepare your preschooler no more than three days in advance.
  • Focus on what the child will see, hear, taste, feel, etc.To build trust, use honest simple language in explaining the event, including things that may hurt or be uncomfortable. Use concrete examples such as, “It will hurt less than a bee sting and be quicker than a commercial on TV.”
  • Give your child a job to focus on, such as holding the mask or assisting the nurse with the bracelet.
  • Try to offer appropriate choices such as which toy to bring.
  • Read books about going to the hospital. Let them play doctor and talk about events that will happen. Demonstrate using a doll or stuffed animal and let the preschooler practice with the toy.
Elementary School Age Children

School-age children are learning how to compete and cooperate with others. They are also learning how to meet the expectations and standards set by others.

  • Prepare your child about a week ahead of the visit. Be honest and allow your child the opportunity to ask questions and express concerns.
  • Focus on positive behaviors and strengths, and reinforce them.
  • If possible, let your child talk to peers who have had similar experiences.
  • Focus on the order of events, including what they will see, hear, taste, feel, etc.
  • Be aware of any myths or misconceptions your child may have regarding the experience. Fear of body mutilation is common at this age.

Adolescents are learning independence, decision-making and self-concept. They are concerned with body image, privacy and peer relationships.

  • Talk about what is going to happen and encourage participation in decision making at least a week in advance.
  • Let your child make as many decisions about the hospitalization as possible.
  • Be honest and encourage your adolescent to ask the doctor or nurse any questions they may have.
  • Respect your adolescent’s need for privacy and control over who knows about the operation and their condition.
  • Ask questions if you do not understand.
  • Bring a living will or health care power of attorney forms with you.
  • We encourage spousal participation during your hospitalization.
  • Learning about your condition will occur throughout your stay.

Meet The Heart Center Team

  • A Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgeon is a doctor who specializes in surgeries of the chest including heart and lung conditions.
  • A Pediatric Cardiologist is a doctor who cares for children with heart problems, as well as adults with congenital heart problems.
  • A Pediatric Cardiac Anesthesiologist is a doctor who gives medicine to make
  • A Pediatric Cardiac Anesthesiologist is a doctor who gives medicine to make you/your child sleep during surgery.
  • A Pediatric Cardiothoracic or Cardiology Nurse Practitioner is a highly trained and specialized nurse who does exams and directs care for patients with heart problems.
  • The Cardiothoracic Surgery Operating Room Nurses are a group of specialized surgery nurses who care for you/your child in the operating room.
  • The Cardiothoracic Perfusionists are highly trained specialists who manage the heart-lung bypass machine.
  • A Cardiac Intensivist is a doctor who takes care of patients with heart problems while they are in the intensive care unit following surgery.

Pre-Admission Testing 

Pre-Admission Testing (PAT) is a pre-surgery day of testing and evaluations. The goal of PAT is to ensure that patients are prepared for the upcoming surgery. The surgeon’s assistant will contact you with the date and time of the PAT as well as give you directions to the Pre-Admission Testing department. During your visit you will meet several members of The Heart Center team as well as staff from PAT.

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What Does the Process Look Like?

The entire process could take four to six hours and will include:

  • Initial exam including height, weight and vital signs
  • History and physical completed by a Nurse Practitioner
  • Exam and interview by an Anesthesiologist
  • Teaching and instructions by a member of the heart center staff. They will also discuss your arrival time the day of surgery and when to stop eating the night before surgery.
  • Child Life Specialists will meet with your child (if over age two).
  • Blood work obtained, if required
  • X-rays, if required
  • EKG or Echocardiogram, if required
  • Urine specimens will be collected for pregnancy testing on all females over age 11 or if they have started menstruating.
  • Additional tests may be needed based on medical history and exam.

Again, this process could take approximately four to six hours. Feel free to bring along toys and snacks for you and/or your family. This visit involves walking throughout the hospital. We encourage you to bring a stroller from home or use one of our complimentary wagons found in the lobby, as you will go home after this visit.

The Night Before Surgery

We have put together the following information to help you remember what to do the day or night before surgery. It is important that these instructions be followed in order to help admission and surgery go as scheduled. See inside cover for important information about your appointment.

  • Take a/give your child a bath the night before surgery. You may be given special cleaning wipes which you will use the night before surgery. Follow the instructions given to you.
  • Be sure to remove fingernail polish and all jewelry.
  • If hair is long, please braid it so that it does not become tangled or hard to manage after surgery.
  • Feel free to ask questions about the surgery or hospital routines at any time.
  • In the rare event that surgery needs to be cancelled, we will make every attempt to contact you before you arrive and reschedule your surgery as early as possible.