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Open Heart Surgery Handbook

Although a period of 4-6 weeks is generally considered the average for recovery from open heart surgery, the length of your recovery is as individual as you are. Factors such as age, fit­ness level prior to surgery, type of surgery, emotional status, etc., are extremely individual. Therefore, it is important not to compare your recovery with that of other patients.

Perhaps the best rule of thumb during recovery is to exercise moderation in most everything you do. Use common sense and "listen" to your body. Because of your temporarily delicate condition, there is a fine line between starting to feel tired and becoming fatigued. Gradu­ally increasing your activity on a daily basis is the best road to a trouble-free recovery.

Follow-Up Communication

You will be provided with a phone number to call if you have any questions once you are home. We encourage you to call us with any questions or concerns at any time 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week. Feel free to call the Surgeon’s office, or the nursing unit.


Care of the Sternum

Your primary restrictions after your return home will relate to the healing of the sternum (breastbone) which was separated during surgery. The sternum is held together by wires, which promotes healing and stabilizes the breastbone. You will not feel these wires and they do not need to be removed; however, they will show up on X-rays and may set off metal detectors (e.g., at the airport).


Care of Your Incisions

Incisions should be checked daily. You may notice itching, slight redness, numbness, soreness, some swelling and bruising. This is all normal and should progressively subside. If you like, you can use a heating pad over the incisions.

Call your surgeon’s office immediately if you experience increased redness or swelling, a change in pain, excessive drainage or pulling apart. DO NOT wait until the next day to see if there is improvement.


Visiting With Friends

Although you will be eager to see your family and friends (and they will want to see you) it is a good idea to limit your visitors during the first week or two because visiting can be deceptively tiring. Also, do not allow ill visitors during this period.


Dietary Concerns

As previously mentioned, dietary education will be offered and reference materials provided prior to your discharge. In general, it is important to limit those foods containing large amounts of fats, sugar and sodium, as they can contribute to further heart problems. In simplest terms, you should eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat foods, and decrease your intake of saturated fats, sugar, salt and sodium and alcohol.

Where alcohol is concerned, none should be consumed until permission is given by your physician.


No Smoking

All tobacco use should be stopped immediately. If you need assistance to stop smoking, you may contact the PEP Program (Pulmonary Education Partnership) at 419-251-4790. This program is covered by most insurances, but be sure to check your particular coverage to be sure.

You should also become more conscious of second-hand smoke, which can be as harmful as smoking yourself. Do not allow others to smoke in your home, and seek areas with good ventilation when you are with a smoker in public.


Returning to Work

Your doctor will advise you about returning to work at your six-week check-up. This decision will depend on a number of variables, including your condition, the type of work you do and its demands.



As a general rule, you can resume full sexual activity when you are able to climb two flights of stairs or walk 3-4 blocks without becoming fatigued. It is best to choose a time when you are rested and relaxed. It is natural for both you and your partner to have feelings of apprehension, fear and anxiety. The best way to combat this is to communicate your feelings.


Cardiac Rehabilitation Program

Gradually increasing your activity at home helps to promote healing and rebuilds your body’s muscle tone. However, many individuals prefer to learn how to become more active through an organized approach such as Mercy St. Charles Hospital’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.

Cardiac Rehab may be initiated in the inpatient setting and continued into the outpatient setting. This program strives to optimize each individuals ability to function. A cardiac rehabilitation nurse specialist will work with your physician to select exercise workloads that are safe but effective in developing your cardiovascular capacity. Your heart rhythm, heart rate and blood pressure will be carefully monitored while you are exercising. Educational sessions are offered weekly in the outpatient setting on such topics as diet, home exercise, risk factor reduction, stress and more.


Mended Hearts

Mended Hearts, Inc., is a national support group for individuals with heart disease. During your stay you should receive an informational packet from a Mended Hearts representative. The organization’s local chapter can be contacted by calling 419-472-4351.
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