Auckland DHB Cardiothoracic and Vascular Intensive Care and High Dependency Unit
Heart Valve Surgery
The heart has four major valves that act like gates to allow blood to flow in the correct direction. In some disease processes the valve can become narrow (stenosis) which means less blood can flow through it. The valve can also become ‘leaky’ which means the blood can flow both forwards and backwards. Both problems cause difficulties with blood flow and therefore the ability of the heart to function effectively. These valves can be replaced, using an artificial valve or a valve from a human donor or a pig.
The procedure involves making a cut through the front of the chest and breast bone (sternotomy) so the surgeons can operate directly on the heart. During the procedure the patient's heart is stopped and replaced by an external heart-lung bypass machine. Part of the heart is then opened and the valve repaired or replaced. Once the surgery is complete the heart is restarted and the heart-lung machine removed, the breast bone is joined back together and the chest wound sewn up. The operation can take between 3-5 hours.