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What To Expect During Ventricular Assist Device Surgery

Ventricular assist device (VAD) surgery usually takes between 4 and 6 hours. The process is similar to that of other types of open-heart surgery.

The team for VAD surgery includes:

  • Surgeons who do the operation.
  • Surgical nurses who assist the surgeons.
  • Anesthesiologists who are in charge of the medicine that makes you sleep during surgery.
  • Perfusionists who are in charge of the heart-lung bypass machine. This machine keeps blood flowing through your body while the VAD is put in your chest.

Before the surgery, you'll be given medicine to make you sleep so you won't feel any pain. Your vital signs—such as your heartbeat, blood pressure, oxygen level, and breathing—will be checked throughout the surgery.

A breathing tube will be guided down your throat into your lungs. This tube will connect to a ventilator (a machine that supports breathing).

The surgeon will make a cut down the center of your chest. Then, he or she will cut your breastbone and open your rib cage to reach your heart.

You may be given medicine to stop your heart during the surgery. The medicine will allow your surgeon to operate on a still heart.  A heart-lung bypass machine will keep oxygen-rich blood moving through your body during the surgery. (Some LVAD surgeries have been done without stopping the heart and using a heart-lung bypass machine.)

For more information about heart-lung bypass machines, including an illustration, go to "What To Expect During Heart Surgery."

Once the surgeon has properly attached the VAD, the heart-lung machine is switched off and the VAD starts working. The device supports blood flow and takes over the heart's pumping function.

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Last Updated: March 31, 2012