What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

During the procedure

The procedure to implant a VAD is an open-heart surgery that usually takes four to six hours. You'll be asleep during the procedure, so you shouldn't feel any pain during the procedure.

You'll be connected to a machine that helps you breathe (ventilator) during your surgery. A tube will be run down your throat to your lungs and connected to the ventilator. You may need to remain connected to the ventilator for several days after your surgery.

A cut will be made down the center of your chest. Your chest bone (sternum) is separated and your rib cage is opened so that your doctors can operate on your heart. Your heart is stopped during the surgery. You will be connected to a heart-lung bypass machine that keeps oxygenated blood flowing through your body during surgery.

Once your VAD is implanted and working properly, your doctors will take you off the heart-lung bypass machine so that the VAD can begin pumping blood through your heart.

Some VADs pump blood similar to the way your heart does, with a pumping action. Other VADs allow a continuous stream of blood to flow through your heart. If you have a continuous stream of blood flowing through your LVAD, you may not have a normal pulse, even though your body is getting the blood it needs.

After the procedure

When you wake up from your surgery, you'll be in the intensive care unit (ICU). You'll stay in the ICU for several days, where you'll be fed and given fluids and medications through an intravenous (IV) line. You'll have a tube in your bladder to drain your urine and other tubes in your chest to drain fluid and blood. Your lungs may not work properly immediately after your surgery, so you may need to remain connected to a ventilator for a few more days until you're able to breathe on your own.

After a few days in the ICU, you'll likely be moved to a regular hospital room. As you recover, nurses will help you become increasingly active. They may help you get out of bed, sit up and walk around the hallways of the hospital. You may also have visits with a physical therapist to help you continue to gain strength and get used to performing daily activities. The amount of time you'll spend in the ICU and in the hospital can vary, depending on your condition before the procedure and how well you recover after your VAD is placed.

You'll likely be prescribed antibiotics and blood-thinning medications to prevent infection and other complications while you're in the hospital. Your doctor will order blood tests periodically to check your kidney function and to make sure your medications are effective.

While you're recovering in the hospital, it can be helpful to have friends and family visit. Visitors can help you perform some physical activities, and they can learn to help you care for your VAD when you go home.

Mar. 13, 2012