Guide to your Child’s Surgery

As you prepare your child for surgery, you will need to decide when and what to tell him or her. What you say will depend on your child’s developmental stage and ability to understand what is happening. We offer the following pieces of advice, but you know your child best. We encourage you to communicate and comfort your child in the way you feel is most appropriate.

  • Infants to age three: You can support your young child by bringing familiar, comforting items from home, such as a pacifier, blanket, doll, stuffed animal, music, or a sound machine. Your child will sense how you feel. You can help your child best by remaining calm and being reassuring.
  • Toddler/preschool (3 to 5): Use simple language that discusses what your child will hear, see, feel, and experience to provide a general sense of what to expect during and after surgery. Explain that the purpose of the surgery is to help your child. For example, you can say, “The doctor is going to fix your heart here” (and point to the area). Children of this age use concrete thinking. Try to avoid using the term "put to sleep" when talking about anesthesia. Instead, you might want to say, "The doctor will help you fall asleep with special medicine."
    There are lots of good books about going to the hospital for this age group. A few of our favorites are: Riley's Heart Machine, Curious George Goes to the Hospital, and Franklin Goes to the Hospital. You might want to bring a few familiar items your child will find comforting, such as special pajamas, toys, music, or a doll. 
  • School age (5 to 12): Your child is likely able to understand some details about what to expect to see, hear, and feel during and after surgery. Ask your child what he or she thinks and how much information he or she wants. Remember it is okay if you do not have all the answers. Prepare your child to understand that she or he may feel some discomfort or aches, and be sure to emphasize that the nurses and doctors will be there to give medicine to help. You can explain that, “Anesthesia is a medicine that will help you stay asleep during the surgery so you won’t feel anything. And then you will wake up.” Try to encourage your child to tell you or the nurse if something hurts or seems scary. This will help give your child a sense of control and purpose.
  • Teenage (13-18): With teenagers, the best approach is to be as honest and open as possible from the very beginning. Allow your teen the opportunity to meet with the medical team on his or her own at different stages. Encourage them to write down questions and get answers before and after surgery. If possible, allow your teen to have some control and make choices while you remain supportive.

Preparing Your Child

Please follow these bathing and feeding instructions for the night before surgery.

Bathing and other preparation
On the night before surgery please make sure to:

  • Bathe your child and follow the instructions for skin preparation, which we will provide when you come in for pre-admission testing.
  • Remove nail polish, synthetic nails, and jewelry, including pierced earrings and other piercings.

Unless otherwise instructed by your doctor or nurse:

  • You may give your child’s scheduled medications the night before surgery.
  • Do not give any medications to your child on the morning of surgery.

Eating and drinking

  • For the night before surgery, your child’s doctor will provide specific instructions.
  • Do not allow your child to eat or drink on the day of surgery.

In case of illness
If your child feels sick in the days before or the night before surgery, let us know as soon as possible. If any of the following occur, please call us at 1-844-733-7692 and tell the operator that your child is having heart surgery. You will be directed to the cardiologist on call. Please call about any of these symptoms:

  • Any cold symptoms such as fever, runny nose, or cough
  • Any episodes of diarrhea or vomiting
  • If you have reason to believe that your child has been exposed to anyone with flu-like symptoms or any form of contagious disease such as chicken pox or measles

Day of Surgery

The night before your child’s surgery, we will let you know what time to arrive. Please plan to arrive at least a half-hour before your scheduled check-in time. This will allow enough time for possible travel delays and parking. Be sure to bring your photo ID, your child’s insurance information, contact phone numbers, and any other important information.

On the day of surgery, you will check-in at the Registration and Assessment Area on the 7th floor for registration.

Check-in and Preparation

We will accompany you and your child to the holding area, which is adjacent to the operating room. You will meet with your child’s cardiac anesthesiologist to ask any questions you may have. Then, you will bring your child to the operating room.

In the operating room, the anesthesiologist will give your child medicine (anesthesia) to keep your child asleep and pain free throughout the operation. When we bring your child into the operating room, we will direct you to the family waiting room.

During Surgery

The length of the procedure depends on your child’s heart condition and the type of surgery. Your child’s surgeon can give you an estimated time. We understand that waiting for your child during surgery is worrying and we want to make it as stress-free as possible. Members of your child’s medical team will provide regular updates about the progress of the surgery, either in person or by phone.

After Surgery

Your child’s heart surgeon will come to see you in the family waiting room when the surgery is completed. After that, we will bring your child to the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit (PCICU) on the fourth floor of Kravis Children’s Hospital. In the PCICU, specially trained doctors, physician assistants, nurses, and technicians provide medical care in collaboration with your child’s surgeon.

We understand that you will be very eager to see your child after surgery. You will be able to see your child as soon as possible after we complete the necessary postoperative tests (such as an electrocardiogram or chest X-ray). When your child is ready for visitors, a member of your child’s medical team will meet you in the family waiting room. They will bring you to your child’s bedside in the PCICU. You will be able to meet members of your child’s inpatient team and ask any additional questions you may have.

Remember to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer every time you enter or leave the PCICU to help ensure a safe recovery. Hand sanitizer dispensers are located conveniently throughout the PCICU. Hand hygiene plays an important role in preventing infection.

Support Services

We have a variety of additional support resources available to you and your family before and after surgery. Just ask, and we will connect you with the following:

  • Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy: The staff can help support your child and siblings throughout the hospitalization with medical play, toys, music, art, and pet therapy.
  • Social Work: Social workers can offer you and your family supportive counseling, community referrals, and assistance with all non-medical concerns.
  • Spiritual Care: The spiritual care team can provide support to members of all different faiths and are available for prayer, rituals, baptisms, and support.
  • Books or Other Materials: We have a wide range of books, brochures, and videos.  Your social worker or child life specialist can make specific recommendations for you and your child.