Last updated: May 19, 2008
(THOMAS NORTHCUT/GETTY IMAGES)
Relatively young patients with simple blockages and few health problems tend to have the smoothest operations and quickest recoveries.
Shorter hospital stays
If all goes especially well, some patients may be allowed to go home in as little as three days post-op. A 2007 study found that patients who get released early after bypass surgery have no more complications than those who stay longer.
Sawed in Half
He didn't want details about heart surgery Watch video
Still, it usually takes a full five days to go home, as John Maiorana, of Virginia Beach, Va., discovered when he had quadruple bypass surgery 10 years ago at age 55.
"I sat on the recliner for a couple of days after that, feeling very vulnerable" says Maiorana. "I was walking on eggs. But after a while, I decided my heart was repaired."
The pain can be surprising
A quadruple bypass in 2004 taught Tammy Estep, now 50, a hard-won lesson about traditional bypass surgery: No matter how much a person worries ahead of timeand she worried plentythe aftermath comes as a shock. "Doctors can't tell you how your body will feel," says the Buffalo, N.Y., resident. "It's something that you have to experience for yourself." Not that you'll ever want to, says a heart patient in this video.
Estep's recovery included constipation, a side effect of her pain medications. But her big problem was the itchy, painful, eight-inch gash through the center of her sternum. "It's not the heart that takes time to recover," she says. "It's the incision."
Cardiac rehab speeds recovery
The slowness of Maiorana's recovery pushed him to attend a cardiac rehabilitation program at his local hospital. The supervised exercise and nutrition counseling armed him for the recovery ahead.
Now he runs and lifts weights several times each week. He also sticks to a healthy, low-fat diet to protect his arteries and reduce the chance that he'll ever have to have his chest opened again.