Recovery in the Hospital
Recovery time after total artificial heart (TAH) surgery depends a lot on your condition before the surgery.
If you had severe heart failure for a while before getting the TAH, your body may be weak and your lungs may not work very well. Thus, you may still need a ventilator (a machine that supports breathing) after surgery. You also may need to continue getting nutrition through a feeding tube.
Your hospital stay could last a month or longer after TAH surgery.
Right after surgery, you'll be in the hospital's intensive care unit. An intravenous (IV) line will be inserted into a vein in your arm to give you fluids and nutrition. You’ll also have a tube in your bladder to drain urine.
After a few days or more, depending on how quickly your body recovers, you'll move to a regular hospital room. Nurses who have experience with TAHs and similar devices will take care of you.
The nurses will help you get out of bed, sit, and walk around. As you get stronger, the feeding and urine tubes will be removed. You’ll be able to go to the bathroom on your own and have a regular diet. You'll also be able to take a shower. You'll learn how to do this while taking care of your TAH device.
Nurses and physical therapists will help you gain your strength through a slow increase in activity. You'll also learn how to care for your TAH device at home.
Having family or friends visit you at the hospital can be very helpful. They can help you with various activities. They also can learn about caring for the TAH device so they can help you when you go home.
When you go home after TAH surgery, you'll likely be able to do more activities than you could before. You'll probably be able to get out of bed, get dressed, and move around the house. You may even be able to drive. Your health care team will advise you on the level of activity that's safe for you.
If you have an AbioCor TAH, you can shower or swim, as long as the device is charged.
If you have a CardioWest TAH, you’ll have tubes connected to a power source outside of your body. The tubes go through an opening in your skin. This opening can let in bacteria and increase your risk of infections.
You’ll need to take special steps before you bathe to make sure the tubes going through your abdomen don't get wet. Your health care team will explain how to do this.
Caring for the TAH
If you have an AbioCor TAH, you'll need to keep it charged with its magnetic charger. When it's charged, you can do activities that feel comfortable to you (as your doctor advises).
If you have a CardioWest TAH, it will be attached to an external power source, also called a driver. The driver is portable, so you’ll be able to walk around and do activities.
Nutrition and Exercise
While you recover from TAH surgery, it's very important to get good nutrition. Talk with your health care team about following a proper eating plan for recovery.
Your health care team may recommend a supervised exercise program. Exercise can give your body the strength it needs to recover.
During the months or years when your heart wasn't working well (before surgery), the muscles in your body weakened. Building up the muscles again will allow you to do more activities and feel less tired.
You'll have regular checkups with your health care team. The team will want to check your progress and make sure your TAH is working well.
If you have an AbioCor TAH, your health care team can check it remotely. This means that if you think something is wrong, you can hook up the device to a computer with Internet access.
The computer will transfer data to your health care team so they can see how your TAH is working. Certain problems may require you to see your doctor in person.
The CardioWest TAH can't be checked remotely.
Your health care team will explain warning signs to watch for. If these signs occur, or if you start feeling sick, you'll need to see your doctor right away.
Your health care team may recommend cardiac rehabilitation (rehab). This is a medically supervised program that helps improve the health and well-being of people who have heart problems.
Rehab programs include exercise training, education on heart healthy living, and counseling to reduce stress and help you return to a more active life.
You’ll need to take medicine to prevent dangerous blood clots for as long as you have a TAH. Regular blood tests will show whether the medicine is working.
You also will need to take medicine to try to prevent infections. Your doctor may ask you to take your temperature every day to make sure you don't have a fever. A fever can be a warning sign of infection.
Make sure to take all your medicines as prescribed and report any side effects to your doctor.
If you're on the waiting list for a heart transplant, you'll likely be in close contact with the transplant center. Most donor hearts must be transplanted within 4 hours after removal from the donor.
The transplant center staff may give you a pager so they can contact you at any time. You need to be prepared to arrive at the hospital within 2 hours of being notified about a donor heart.
Getting a TAH may cause fear, anxiety, and stress. If you're waiting for a heart transplant, you may worry that the TAH won't keep you alive long enough to get a new heart. You may feel overwhelmed or depressed.
All of these feelings are normal for someone going through major heart surgery. Talk about how you feel with your health care team. Talking to a professional counselor also can help. If you’re very depressed, your doctor may recommend medicines or other treatments that can improve your quality of life.
Support from family and friends also can help relieve stress and anxiety. Let your loved ones know how you feel and what they can do to help you.