Pediatric Cardiac Surgery

Diagnosing and treatment of children’s heart diseases require specialized knowledge and dedication. The Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Program at Cedars-Sinai, certified by CCS (California Children’s Services) as a pediatric cardiac special care center, consists of several divisions working together for a multidisciplinary approach to achieve the very best care for children with heart disease. All of our doctors use state-of-the-art techniques to treat all forms of congenital heart defects and acquired heart disease in infants, children and adolescents.

In addition to the children from all over Los Angeles County and several surrounding counties, we also welcome children from around the world who are unable to get their heart defects repaired in their own countries. These patients are referred by charity organizations and cared for through our International Children’s Surgery Fund.

The Pediatric Cardiac team is in a unique position to provide optimum, individualized care for each patient.

Find an Expert/Need a Second Opinion?

The Cardiac Surgery Program at Cedars-Sinai provides expert care and innovation to bring you optimal results. If you have questions, need a second opinion or wish to make an appointment please contact our team.

What to Expect Before Your Child's Heart Surgery

Child life specialists suggest you prepare your child for their hospital stay by considering these ideas:

  • If children are old enough to understand, tell them in advance about the upcoming hospital stay. Older children can be told about their medical condition, the procedures required and other details about hospitalization earlier than younger children. A younger child generally should not be told until a couple days before the hospitalization.
  • Try to answer your child's questions about the hospital honestly. You may want to explain what the child can expect while at the hospital.
  • Reassure your child that you or another family member will be nearby while your child is in the hospital to make sure he or she is all right.
  • Pack some special items from home. Familiar objects will help your child feel more comfortable in a strange place. A favorite toy can serve as a security blanket and can accompany your child into surgery and the intensive care unit. Family photos at the bedside can be comforting.
Approximately three weeks before surgery
  • Make arrangements for blood donations: 
    • Encourage your friends and family to donate blood and platelets in your child's name at Cedars-Sinai Blood Donor Services. These donations should be made 3-14 days before the scheduled surgery.
    • Call Blood Donor Services at 310-423-5346.  
    • For complete information about blood donation, including hours and what to expect, visit Blood Donor Services
  • You will be notified by the surgery scheduler about an appointment for a pre-operative day.
Approximately one week before surgery
  • Every patient scheduled for surgery will have a pre-operative appointment. At pre-op, you and your child will receive information about the upcoming surgery, including when to stop eating, what time to arrive at the hospital, what will happened during the surgery, how long you will have to stay at the hospital and other instructions.
  • The pre-operative appointment will include a visit with the pediatric nurse practitioner to go over the child’s medical information and a have a brief physical examination. Please bring a list of your child’s medicines.
  • Pre-op visits generally take a full day and include a blood test, chest X-ray and electrocardiogram (ECG) as needed.
  • If your child is over 3 years old, we encourage you to meet with a Child Life Specialist to explain to your child what to expect while they are in the hospital. Call 310-423-8054 to schedule an appointment. It is convenient to have this appointment on the same day you see the nurse practitioner.
  • A brief tour is available if requested.
The day before surgery
  • Your child cannot have anything to eat or drink after midnight the night before surgery.
  • Give the child’s usual medications the day and evening before surgery, but not the morning of surgery.
  • You may want to pack a few familiar things that will make the child comfortable such as special toys, blanket, books or DVDs. You may also bring pajamas and slippers, but this is not necessary.
The day of surgery
  • It is very important that your child has nothing to eat or drink.
  • Do not give any morning medications.
  • Parking is free for parents only on the day of admission and the day of discharge. View more parking information.
  • Arrive at the hospital at 5:30 a.m., go to the information desk on the street level, South Tower. They will direct you to the registration department.
  • After registration, you will be directed to the pre-operative holding area.
  • At this time, you will meet the anesthesiologist, who is the doctor that will be putting your child to sleep and monitoring him or her during the surgery. Usually, the anesthesiologist will give your child a small amount of oral medicine, which will help the child relax and not be afraid when they are taken into the operating room.
  • There is a large lobby on the 6th floor where the cardiac operating rooms are. You may wait here during the surgery and use this as a place to meet family and friends who are visiting. Someone will keep you updated about the progress of the surgery throughout the morning.
  • After surgery, your child will be taken to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). You will be able to see him or her approximately one hour after he or she arrives.

Frequently Asked Questions

The amount of time in the operating room depends upon the child's heart defect and type of surgery. Your surgeon will be able to answer this question. When the surgery is completed, your surgeon will meet with you. Parents are allowed to visit the child approximately one hour after the child's arrival in the PICU.

There is a large waiting area on the 6th floor, near the cardiac operating rooms. Parents, other family and friends may wait here. Someone from the operating room will update you during the surgery.

There are a variety of different methods that can be used to put your child to sleep. Anesthetic plans are individualized for each patient, and you will have an opportunity to speak with the anesthesiologist prior to the surgery. Usually, children first are given a sedative by mouth to reduce their anxiety, then they may be given an inhaled medicine given through a mask. Generally, an intravenous line is started only after the child is asleep.

Yes, with very few exceptions, any child having heart surgery will need a blood transfusion. We encourage family and friends to donate blood for the child at the Cedars-Sinai Blood Donor Services. Every donation is fully screened.

Blood donations should be done within 3 weeks of the scheduled surgery, but no later than 3 days before. Platelets need to be donated exactly 4 or 5 days before the scheduled surgery. The Blood Bank will test the blood and see if it is compatible with the patient. Direct donated blood that is not used for the patient after 30 days will be released for use for any patient who may need a transfusion. If you have any questions, please contact the pediatric cardiac nurse practitioner at 310-423-7140 or the cardiothoracic surgery office at 310-423-3851.

Yes, we encourage a parent to stay with their child, and accommodations are available for a parent to stay with their child 24 hours a day. We have cots and reclining chairs available, and once the child is transferred to the Pediatric Ward, each room has a cot and a private bathroom with a shower. 

In addition, for breast-feeding mothers, lactation specialists are available for expert help if needed in all of the pediatric departments, pediatric and neonatal intensive care units (PICU, NICU) and the pediatric ward. Breast pumps and freezers are available to pump and store milk for mothers of infants that are unable to eat for a few days.

We encourage parents to create a familiar and home-like environment for their child because we want your child’s hospital experience to be as comfortable as possible. Cedars-Sinai will provide all the basic necessities for the child’s hospital stay, but you are encouraged to bring any of the following items to make your child feel more comfortable:

  • Pajamas, robe, slippers
  • Special blanket, stuffed animal or other comfort object
  • Favorite toy
  • Favorite DVD

Every child is different. Every day your child is here, your doctor and/or nurse will make it a priority to communicate with you about the child’s condition, progress and plan for discharge.

We know it is important to keep communication consistent and open with friends and family members while your child is in the hospital, but guidelines are also in place to ensure proper order and care on patient floors. Therefore, siblings and friends are allowed to visit during normal visiting hours, which are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Please ask your nurse about specific visiting hours in the Intensive Care Units, which may change during seasonal community infections, such as the flu. Parents are always encouraged to visit unless they are ill.

Children are often ready to start eating one day after their heart surgery, but every child is different, and it will depend upon the kind of surgery he or she has.

There will be virtually no special care needed once your child is discharged from the hospital. The surgical incision will be healing well and not need any bandages. You will be expected to wash the incision daily with soap and water. Your child will be playing and eating almost normally when he or she goes home.

Your cardiologist will be able to answer this question. It will depend upon your child’s cardiac defect and the type of surgery he or she has. Often, children will need medicine at home for 1 to 4 weeks after surgery. Your cardiologist will tell you when to stop giving medicine.

Please ask your doctor. Typically, children stay home from school for approximately six weeks.

Every child heals differently so it is difficult to predict what the scar will look like. Approximately 2 weeks after surgery, you may put a cream or emollient of your choice on the healing incision. Protecting the incision from the sun with sunscreen or clothing for 6 months will reduce the appearance of the scar.

Your child will be seen by the nurse practitioner or the surgeon for a wound check 1-2 weeks after being discharged from the hospital. You will also see the cardiologist 1-2 weeks after discharge and continue to see him or her throughout your child’s life. It is also important that your regular pediatrician sees the child soon after surgery.

Get Help or Make an Appointment

Call or send a message to the Heart team. You can also have us call you back at your convenience.

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