Preparing Your Child for Heart Surgery

Has your child been diagnosed with a congenital heart defect and surgery is recommended for repair of the defect? Maybe your child is only 6 months old and you are worried that he/ she could pull out the important lines and tubes after surgery. How will the medical team know if your child is hurting, since he/ she is too young to tell us? Or maybe your child is 6 years old and you are not sure if you should tell him/ her what is going to happen. Will that just make your child anxious and scared? Perhaps your child is 12 years old and angry that you are going to let the surgeons operate on him/ her.

It can be overwhelming trying to prepare yourself for your child’s surgery, much less prepare your child for what he/ she is about to go through. Here are a few thoughts on ways to prepare for surgery day and recovery.

Do your research, including looking at the hospital’s surgery outcomes and experience. Write down questions you don’t want to forget to ask. You are your child’s advocate, so no question is too silly. Asking hard questions now could help you have peace of mind at the time of surgery.

In my experience, children do better when they’ve been informed at an age-appropriate level regarding what surgery is, why they need it, and what to expect afterward. I have witnessed children who were sheltered from the real reason they were at the hospital have a harder time coping after surgery and have more days of being angry or upset. In contrast, children who have been engaged in conversation and included in discussions seem to better cope with the post-operative course and are better at verbalizing their needs. This advice won’t apply to every child, but it will apply to the majority. You, as the patient, must ultimately do what you think is best for your child.

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