Hearing the words “your child needs heart surgery” can be overwhelming and stressful. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare can help the process go smoothly. To help, we’ve compiled important information about what to expect before, during and after your child’s surgery at the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
The information on this page has been organized into the different stages of your child’s surgery, and was created with the help of patients, families and hospital staff. This hospital-specific information can assist you in planning, preparing and knowing what to expect. It is not, however, intended to be medical advice or to replace the information provided to you by your child’s care team.
Throughout this page, we refer to the “Preparing for Your Child’s Heart Surgery Guide”, and the “Your Child’s Heart Surgery” section of the Stollery Congenital Heart Program website. These resources are managed by the Stollery and contain the most up-to-date information. As you prepare, ask questions and share any concerns with your Nursing Coordinator or Surgical Case Coordinator. They can answer any questions you have and offer guidance throughout the process.
The Stollery Surgical Case Coordinator will call you once a date for your child's surgery has been confirmed. They will provide you with important information, including preoperative instructions and logistical details (the date of surgery, when to arrive, whether or not a PAC Clinic visit is required, etc).
They will tell you about how long your child will need to be in the hospital (this largely depends on the type of surgery being performed). You will also receive a package in the mail that includes a dental clearance letter to be filled out by your child’s dentist before surgery, and a hard copy of the preparation guide.
Parents and families can expect to receive a lot of information at this stage. It is important to organize all of the information you receive (a folder or binder can help) and review everything. Arming yourself with knowledge will help alleviate your fears and make it easier to maintain your strength throughout the process.
Even though you will be receiving a lot of new information, try to be as active and engaged as possible. Discuss any questions or concerns you have with your Surgical Case Coordinator. Remember, no question is too small, and it is OK to ask more than once. In stressful situations, we sometimes need to hear information multiple times before we are able to process it.
Your Child’s Cardiologist will provide you with more detailed information about the surgery. The Surgical Case Coordinator will also provide preoperative instructions to help you prepare your child and ensure they are as healthy as possible. It is important that you fully understand and adhere to these instructions. Always ask questions if you’re unsure.
In addition to making sure your child is ready physically, you also need to make sure they are ready psychologically. This means talking about the surgery with them in an age-appropriate way and reassuring them about what's going to happen. Refer to the Preparing for Your Child’s Heart Surgery Guide for more information on how to talk with your child about the procedure and hospital stay. Your Surgical Case Coordinator can also provide guidance about how to talk with children at different developmental stages.
You can also use the Stollery Children's Hospital Photo Walkthrough (found on the overview tab) to become familiar with the hospital. As the hospital can be a new and unfamiliar experience, knowing what you’ll see can help both you and your child feel more comfortable. Make sure to look through the gallery first and share only the photos you feel are appropriate.
If you require additional support, the Stollery Child Life Program can help. Through this program, Certified Child Life Specialists help patients and families cope with the stress and uncertainty of acute and chronic illness, injury, trauma, disability, loss and bereavement. They provide evidence-based, developmentally and psychologically appropriate interventions including therapeutic play, preparation for procedures, and education to reduce fear, anxiety, and pain. You will meet the Child Life Specialist on the day of your Pre-Admission Clinic visit.
As a parent of a child requiring surgery, it can be easy to forget about your own wellbeing. Managing your own anxiety while keeping your child reassured can feel overwhelming. It is important to know that you are not alone. There are people and resources available to help.
Staying informed about the surgery and what to expect is one of the most important things you can do. Make a point of reading through all of the information that has been provided to you. Ask as many questions as you need to and don't hesitate to request additional information.
While your care team will do their best to prepare and inform you prior to the surgery, it’s always good to have a few questions ready to ask. Suggestions are included within the Stollery Preparing for Your Child’s Heart Surgery guide.
While it is important to increase your knowledge, it is just as important to care for your mental and emotional health. If you need to talk to someone, your Surgical Case Coordinator (or your home hospital’s clinic nurses if traveling from another province) can put you in touch with a hospital Social Worker (who can connect you to counsellors and other resources).
In addition, there are family support groups in each of the Western Provinces that can provide assistance. Through these groups, you can connect with other families (in-person or online) who have been through similar experiences. Not only can this help build your support system, it can provide a way to comfortably ask questions and seek advice from peers.
Children requiring surgery usually need to attend an appointment at the Stollery Pre-Admission Clinic (PAC). Your Surgical Case Coordinator will phone you with the appointment date and send an email confirmation. Usually, this appointment is a day or two before surgery. There are numerous tests that must be completed, so plan on staying at the hospital for the entire day. For more information about what to expect during your PAC visit, refer to the Preparing for Your Child’s Heart Surgery guide or the “Your Child’s Heart Surgery” section of the Stollery website.
The day of surgery can be an anxious and long day. Knowing what to expect and being well prepared can help tremendously. You can stay with your child up until the time they are taken into the operating room, and will be reunited with them as soon as possible after surgery.
During the PAC visit, you will be given instructions on fasting and when and where to arrive for surgery. Make sure to follow these instructions and leave plenty of time for travel, parking, and checking in. Directions, parking information and a hospital map can be found here.
For more information, refer to the Preparing for Your Child’s Heart Surgery Guide or the “Your Child’s Surgery” section of the Stollery website.
Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for surgery to take longer than expected. While waiting for surgery to complete, some parents choose to remain in the waiting room, while others choose to visit different parts of the hospital. Please check with a nurse to see if you are permitted to leave the waiting area. In some cases, the doctor may ask you to stay nearby.
Within the University of Alberta Hospital (where the Stollery is located), there are many areas you can visit to pass the time. You can walk through the outdoor areas, visit the many cafes and restaurants or take a stroll through the art gallery located on the main floor. There are also two gift shops and a number of indoor garden-type spaces to rest and wait in. Information about the on-site amenities available during your visit can be found on the Stollery website. If you need to access support resources while you wait or need to talk to someone, your Surgical Case Coordinator can connect you.
You must leave your cell phone ringer on (not on vibrate) so that staff can contact you when the surgery is complete. Because cell phones may not work in all areas of the hospital, it is important to frequently check to make sure you have reception.
Going home after heart surgery can be both a happy and an anxious time. Before you leave, your child's care team will provide you with discharge information. This includes post-operative care instructions, wound care instructions and a confirmation of the follow-up appointment with your child’s cardiologist (this is booked before you leave the hospital). You may also be provided with prescriptions for drugs that are required during recovery. It can be helpful to fill these as soon as possible (you can use the pharmacy on site, located near the cafeteria on the main floor of the hospital). You will also be given information on who to contact with questions or concerns.
If you have travelled from another city or province, your home hospital and care team will work with the surgical team to ensure all the necessary information is transferred. We know that going home can sometimes be worrisome, but you can rest assured that both teams will work together to make sure you have a smooth transition.
For more information, refer to the Preparing for Your Child’s Discharge and Follow-up guide or the “Your Child’s Surgery” section of the Stollery website.
The Stollery Children’s Hospital website
The Stollery website provides a wealth of information for patients and families, including visitor information, maps and directions and more.
The Stollery Congenital Heart Program website
This website contains detailed information and resources for patients, parents and families, including resources to help prepare your child for surgery.
Preparing for Your Child’s Heart Surgery
An extensive resource developed by the Stollery that provides information and resources to help you and your child prepare for surgery. It also includes information on what to expect before, during and after the procedure.
Preparing for Your Child’s Discharge and Follow-up
Developed by nurses and care providers at the Stollery, this resource provides practical guidance and information to help you transition back home after surgery.
Fetal Cardiology Resource and Education
Information for families referred to the Stollery Congenital Heart Program when diagnosed before birth.
The Stollery Surgical Case Coordinator is your go-to contact for any questions or concerns. Their role is to help patients and families prepare for heart surgery. You can contact them as often as needed.