There are many kinds of heart defects. Some are minor, and others are more serious. Defects can occur inside the heart or in the large blood vessels outside the heart. Some heart defects may need surgery right after the baby is born. For others, your child may be able to safely wait for months or years to have surgery.
One surgery may be enough to repair the heart defect, but sometimes a series of procedures is needed. Three different techniques for fixing congenital defects of the heart in children are described below.
Open-heart surgery is when the surgeon uses a heart-lung bypass machine.
An incision is made through the breastbone (sternum) while the child is under general anesthesia (the child is unconscious and does not feel pain). Tubes are used to re-route the blood through a special pump called a heart-lung bypass machine. This machine adds oxygen to the blood and keeps the blood warm and moving through the rest of the body while the surgeon is repairing the heart. Using the machine allows the heart to be stopped. Stopping the heart makes it possible to repair the heart muscle itself, the heart valves, or the blood vessels outside the heart. After the repair is done, the machine is removed, and the heart is started again. The breastbone and the skin incision are closed up. For some heart defect repairs, the incision is made on the side of the chest, between the ribs. This is called a thoracotomy. It is sometimes called closed-heart surgery. This surgery is done using special instruments and a camera.
Another way to fix defects in the heart is to insert a few small tubes into an artery in the leg and pass them up to the heart. Only some heart defects can be repaired this way.