Surgery for Congenital Heart Defects in Children

Pediatric heart surgeons at NYU Langone’s Pediatric and Congenital Heart Program are experienced in treating patients of all ages who have inherited and acquired heart defects, performing about 200 cardiac surgeries per year for congenital heart defects.

Our surgeons have extensive experience performing successful cardiac reconstructive procedures in patients with complex cardiovascular disorders, including transposition of the great arteries, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, truncus arteriosus, and the entire spectrum of congenital heart defects. Our surgical results rank among the best in the nation.

Fortunately, many congenital heart defects can be corrected with a single surgery performed in early infancy. Complex heart defects may require a series of operations, starting in the first months of life and ending at about age three.

At NYU Langone, we have a survival rate of more than 98 percent for congenital cardiac procedures, with a 100 percent survival rate from 2009 to 2014 for these complex heart repairs: the arterial switch operation with ventricular septal defect (VSD) repair for transposition of the great arteries, repair of interrupted aortic arch with VSD, truncus arteriosus, repair of total anomalous pulmonary venous connection, and the Fontan procedure for complex single ventricle heart defects such as hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS).

What to Expect for Your Child’s Heart Surgery

Our specialists partner with families to make sure that they understand the precise nature of the child’s heart condition and how a recommended surgical procedure can help to repair the underlying problem. 

Heart surgery is most often used to repair heart defects that occur inside the heart. Before the surgery, a child is sedated with general anesthesia and is temporarily connected to a heart–lung machine, which provides what’s known as cardiopulmonary bypass—that is, it does the work of the heart and lungs during surgery, so that the heart can be operated on and the organs and tissues of the body still receive oxygen-rich blood. 

The team uses special equipment to monitor your child during and after heart surgery. A cardiac perfusionist is a highly trained health professional responsible for the set-up and operation of the heart–lung machine. The perfusionist ensures that the blood flow and breathing needs of the child are being met and keeps the surgeon fully informed of any changes, which allows the rest of the cardiac surgery team to focus on the actual surgical procedure. 

Most procedures take three to six hours, though the time may vary depending on the type of heart condition and surgery performed.

Combined Surgery and Catheterization Procedures

To treat children with some types of congenital heart defects, our doctors may combine surgical approaches with cardiac catheterization. At NYU Langone, our state-of-the-art hybrid operating room has the sophisticated technology and advanced surgical equipment required for a combined operative and cardiac catheterization procedure. This allows our cardiac catheterization and cardiac surgery teams to work side by side as they perform both types of procedures, individually or simultaneously, without having to move the child. 

This capability can shorten the length of time it takes to complete a procedure while making it easier and safer to repair some of the most complex congenital heart defects.

Recovery from Heart Surgery

After heart surgery, your child is transferred to our Congenital Cardiovascular Care Unit (CCVCU), where specially trained doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, and technicians provide around-the-clock care. A pediatric cardiac intensivist, which is a specialist in children’s critical care and cardiology, coordinates care in the CCVCU.

Our team reunites you with your child in the CCVCU as soon as possible. When you first see your child, you may notice some swelling, the result of extra fluid given in the operating room through a vein with intravenous (IV) infusion. This swelling gradually goes away.

Your child remains for a few days or longer in the CCVCU, where our team makes sure his or her heart and lungs are working as they should and that there’s no longer a risk for serious complications, such as bleeding or infection after surgery. Your child may be transferred to an intermediate care unit until he or she is able to return home.

Pain Management

Assuring your child’s comfort during and after surgery is one of our team’s priorities. Your child receives pain relief medication immediately after surgery. This helps to reduce your child’s anxiety and takes care of most of the discomfort.

Pain relief medications may be continued, depending on your child’s level of discomfort, so that he or she can rest, cough, and breathe deeply, all of which can aid in recovery.

Preparing for Your Child’s Cardiac Surgery

For more information about preparing for your child’s cardiac surgery, please read our family guides in English, Spanish, Russian, or Chinese.

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