During heart valve surgery, one or more valves are repaired or replaced. Repair means that the valve is mended to help it work better. Replacement means your diseased valve is removed and a new valve is put in its place. Whether a valve will be repaired or replaced can only be decided once surgery has begun. Your surgeon will talk with you about his or her plans for surgery and any other procedures you may need. For minimally invasive bypass surgery, cuts (incisions) made in your chest are often much smaller than those made for traditional bypass surgery.
To get to your heart, the surgeon must make one or more incisions in your chest. One of two types of incisions may be used. Which type your surgeon chooses depends on the location of the valve and the method of surgery used. Your surgeon will talk with you about which incision you will get.
If your heart’s movements must be stopped during your valve surgery, your blood will be kept flowing by a heart-lung machine. This machine gives oxygen to your blood and pumps the blood back through your body. Your surgeon will connect your body to the machine through two tubes. One tube carries blood from your heart. The other tube returns blood to your arterial system. These tubes are usually inserted through blood vessels in your groin. Once the valve surgery is done, your heart and lungs take over again.
To reach the valve, the surgeon makes an incision in your heart or aorta. If the valve can be fixed, the needed repairs are done. If the valve must be replaced, part or all of the damaged valve and its supportive structures may be removed. The right-sized replacement valve is selected, positioned in the valve opening, and sewn firmly into place. The incision in your heart or aorta is closed. Your heart is then started so it beats on its own again.