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Cardiac Surgery: Patient Journey and Resources

Preparing for heart surgery can feel overwhelming, but you are not alone. At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center in St. Louis , we’re here to support you every step of the way.

Your cardiac surgeons and their teams offer high-quality care using the latest  surgical procedures and other treatments. We take a compassionate approach to help you reach your treatment goals and prepare for heart surgery recovery.

Cardiac Surgery: What to Expect at the Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center

Your cardiac surgeons have specialized expertise in heart surgery and comprehensive care for all types of heart disease. Our team-based approach brings together cardiothoracic surgeons, cardiologists, and other heart experts to create a tailored treatment plan for you.

We take care of thousands of patients every year, giving us the skills and experience to handle the most complex conditions. Our surgical options include minimally invasive procedures, mechanical heart devices, open-heart surgery and heart transplantation. 

Diagnostics and Testing for Heart Disease

Our heart teams begin with a thorough evaluation. We can review a diagnosis if you already have one, or we can perform testing to find the cause of your symptoms. Find out more about our diagnostics and testing process, and see all of the heart diseases we treat with surgery.

Your Heart Surgery or Procedure

We offer some minimally invasive heart treatments as outpatient procedures. For procedures such as open-heart surgery, you stay in our hospital for a few days so we can monitor you as you begin recovery. Learn more about your cardiac surgery options.

Our doctors and some outpatient procedures are available at several locations throughout the St. Louis area. We perform heart surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis and Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital in Creve Coeur. See a map and get directions to our locations.

Before your heart procedure 

For most procedures and surgeries, you will go to our Center for Preoperative Assessment and Planning to meet the anesthesia team. You may have some tests to check for any issues that need to be addressed. Presurgical testing helps ensure that you are ready for your procedure.

The preoperative team will explain everything that will happen during and after your procedure. We will help you prepare and tell you what to bring and what to do in the days before your procedure. 

If you can, it is helpful to bring a loved one with you to take notes as you speak with your doctors and nurses. Then for your procedure, you will need to have someone drive you home, in most cases.

During your heart procedure

If you are having surgery, your care team keeps your loved ones updated about your status while you’re in the operating room. After your procedure, your surgeon speaks with your loved ones to tell them how the procedure went and when they can see you. 

During your procedure, your loved one can spend time in the waiting room or other public spaces. Learn more about our current visitor policy and other coronavirus information. See your options for food and beverages and other visitor information:

After your heart procedure

If you have surgery that requires inpatient care, you will stay in the cardiac intensive care unit (ICU) first. Usually, your loved ones can visit you about an hour after you arrive in the ICU, even if you’re still asleep. 

While you’re in the ICU, you will have a dedicated nurse who will review your status with your loved ones and answer their questions. Our cardiac ICU nurses are all specialized surgical nurses with expertise in cardiothoracic disease. They take care of you as your recovery begins, providing 24-hour monitoring.

Depending on your specific health needs, your hospital stay may vary. In general, you can expect to stay in the cardiac ICU for one to two days. Then you will move to the step-down unit for five to 10 days, also with 24-hour monitoring.

Discharge and follow-up care after heart surgery

Your care team works closely with our dedicated discharge team to plan your discharge when you’re ready to go home. We review details with you and your loved ones to ensure that you will be in a safe environment with support as you recover. For discharge planning, we:

  • give you your medications and make appointments for your follow-up care
  • provide instructions for your care at home
  • explain how to recognize signs of infection or other symptoms to contact us about
  • provide referrals to other services as needed, such as home health care
  • keep your referring provider up to date on your care with us for when you return to their care

In most cases, we refer you to cardiac rehab, which you can usually start within about two to six weeks after surgery. Learn more about our medically supervised cardiac rehabilitation program.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University heart specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 888-230-8832.