About Heart Surgery

What is heart surgery like?

As a  heart surgeon, two things continue to leave me in awe, even after all the years I have been privileged to do this work. The first is the incredible beauty and strength of the heart.  The heart wants to beat. Even a single heart cell, immersed in a warm salt water bath and provided with oxygen, will contract and relax with its own intrinsic rhythm.

Heart surgery is about working with nature, not against it. Excellence in heart surgery requires patience, gentleness, precision, and careful attention to detail. It  also requires intuition for the heart’s own capacity to get well. Sometimes it is best to do less, not more, allowing the heart time to gain strength and recover.

The second incredible thing is the teamwork involved. No heart operation is ever done by a single person. Few things in life are based more on teamwork than heart surgery. Great teams have a natural flow and rhythm to their work.

As a patient you will see only a little of this. You will probably remember the individual actions...a reassuring touch, a twinkle of an eye that hints at a smile behind the mask, a kind word, a warm blanket when you are cold. But pay attention to the teamwork. It is beautiful to watch and incredible to be part of.

Heart surgery is different somehow than other kinds of surgery. This is true for patients and care givers alike. Heart surgery asks more, and gives more. People who work on the heart team are happiest in situations where much is required of them. They are just naturally comfortable in this kind of environment, where they must give their best every day.

From my perspective as a surgeon, the bonds of trust and mutual responsibility that form between surgeon and patient are very special. It is an incredible privilege being trusted so deeply by a patient, for whom everything is on the line. In my life the closest thing to this responsibility is the sense of love and responsibility of a parent for a child. It is that powerful. The good news is that most patients these days, even ones who are very sick at first, usually recover and end up doing well.

The navigation tab called “Helpful References” has links to well written web pages you can use to find useful and reliable information regarding specific heart surgery conditions.

   Painting by Jill Morton

Paul N. Uhlig,  MD, MPA, FACS

Central plains cardiothoracic surgery LLC

Heart blood flow before and after coronary artery bypass surgery

Before          After

All original content on this site is © 2011 by Paul N. Uhlig, MD and may be used with appropriate attribution.