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Heart Bypass / Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG)

We speak to Mr JS, a 57 year old male who had a heart bypass five years ago.........

Why did you need this operation?

''It all started when I had a heart attack. I woke up during the night feeling terrible, with a severe pain in my back. I thought that this was just a worse episode of my usual back pain, so took some painkillers. On my way back to bed I felt really dizzy, then must have collapsed. My wife called an ambulance and by the time they arrived I was conscious again. They took a heart reading and said I might be having a heart attack! Now this was a surprise, as I thought that heart attacks caused chest pain going down the left arm;Heart anatomy image apparently they usually do, but can occasionally give different symptoms like mine. I then got taken into hospital where they took some blood and said that the results showed I had had a mild heart attack.

I stayed in hospital for a few days and was asked to do an 'exercise stress test'. This is where I had to go on a treadmill for about 12 minutes whilst my heart was monitored. This showed mild changes only so I was then discharged home. The Consultant wanted to be sure about things, though, so he arranged an angiogram (click to read about the Real Experience). This showed that my three main arteries were blocked by 80,90 and 100% which seemed to surprise even the Consultant! I was then put on the 'emergency' list to have a heart bypass''.


What happened in the hospital?

''I had been told to attend a clinic a few days before the operation, where I had blood tests taken and a heart test called an ECG, which was just a few leads attached to stickers that are placed on your chest.

I then went into hospital the day before the operation, and was asked to shave my arms, legs and chest. The next morning I had to take a shower with antiseptic soap and put on a gown ready for theatre. I was then taken to theatre, and cannot remember much after that''.


So what do you first remember ?

''I guess the first thing I remember was being in the Intensive Care Unit. I had a button to press whenever I felt pain, and I found that this kept the pain well under control. Because the painkiller was morphine, my first few days are a bit blurry as I was quite drowsy!

My chest was a little sore, and my left arm was bandaged as they had taken the artery from there for the bypass''.


What happened after that?

''I was in ITU for three days, then moved onto the ward. As I say, the morphine kept any pain under control, but my breathing was a bit difficult. I had to stay propped up in bed all the time, including when sleeping. Anytime I tried to lie back, my breathing became difficult - I gather this is quite normal as others in the ward had the same problem.

Things were going well, until I felt a strange fluttering in my chest. The doctors did an ECG and said the heart was beating too fast. They tried to slow it down with a drug injection, but that didn't work. This meant I had to go back to theatre to have my heart shocked back into rhythm. Again, I have no recollection of this as I had a general anaesthetic''.


Did that set back your recovery?

''It probably did a little but I saw it as just a minor setback really. I felt much better after the shock treatment and had no more problems with the heart rate.

In total I was in hospital for 13 days during which time I got slowly stronger and stronger. It was difficult to even get out of bed at first, but by the end I was walking up stairs - in fact, we had to walk up two flights of stairs before we were allowed home!''


How was your recovery from there?

Cardiac recovery image''Pretty uneventful really. Life was at a much slower pace and I couldn't get up my stairs at home in one go for quite a while as I got too short of breath. This improved in time though. After six weeks I was asked to attend a cardiac rehabilitation class where we were taught about the medications we had to take, how to eat and live healthily, and were gradually introduced to simple exercises like walking around a track. This class really helped with my recovery. It still took about three months though for me to be able to get up my stairs without problem or to be able to lie flat in bed''.


Have you had any side-effects or complications?

''The right side of my neck was sore for a fair while, as was the base of my spine. I wasn't sure why this was so, but apparently it's a known side-effect.

The scar on my chest is a bit lumpy and itched for a while, but this settled after a year or so. One thing that was a little strange was that most of my chest felt numb after the operation. This is apparently because the nerves get cut at the time of surgery. The numb area has shrunk, but the middle portion of the chest is still numb.

I've also noticed that my memory and concentration aren't quite as good as before the operation, but not to an extent that my life has been changed by it''.


Do you have any advice for anyone having this procedure?

''For a start, make sure you quit smoking for good. I'm sure that smoking is what caused my problems in the first place, and I quit on the night I had my heart attack. From the wards and the rehab classes I've come across a couple of people that still smoke, and they haven't done as well as the others who don't!

Apart from that, I think the best advice really is to not worry too much. Yes, it is a scary operation to have and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared before the op, but I can honestly say that it wasn't as bad as I thought''.

Learn more about heart bypass operations in our Procedure Info pages
This page is for information only, and does not replace a Specialist. Your experience may not be the same as above and the surgery, tests or other management may not be as described as above. If you are concerned about any health issues, you should contact your general practitioner or specialist for healthcare advice. Please also read our disclaimer.



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