Understanding Valve Repair or Replacement Surgery

A heart valve that has been severely damaged or diseased impacts the overall flow of blood throughout the body. It can be necessary to repair or replace the valve before conditions such as valve stenosis, prolapse or regurgitation create irreparable harm.

As pioneers in heart valve surgery — both traditional and minimally invasive — our heart surgeons can offer surgical solutions that are not available at most hospitals. Heart valve problems that benefit from surgery include congenital valve disorders, leaky valves that don't close properly (regurgitation), infected valves and narrowed valves that don't open correctly (stenosis).

Our cardiac surgeons aim to repair malfunctioning heart valves before opting for total valve replacement. Valve repair may involve sewing damaged valve flaps or strengthening the "ring" that holds the valve in place. If valve repair is not a viable option, UChicago Medicine cardiac surgeons can replace the faulty heart valves with artificial or biological valves taken from human or animal valve tissue.

Advancing Treatments for Better Results

We regularly take on challenging cases, such as those that involve the repair or replacement of more than one heart valve at a time, or "redo" operations to correct unsuccessful valve surgeries. Many of our patients are considered high risk, including people who have had several prior heart surgeries, those with co-existing medical conditions, elderly and overweight individuals and people who have been turned down for heart surgery at other hospitals. While we routinely care for high-risk patients, our team welcomes any patient with a heart valve problem that can benefit from surgery. 

Why Chose UChicago Medicine for Minimally Invasive Valve Surgery

Whenever possible, our surgeons use minimally invasive and robotic techniques when treating heart valve disease. Rather than making a large incision through the breastbone (sternum) to gain access to the heart, this method uses sophisticated instruments to perform the surgery through small incisions.

In many cases, valve problems can be treated with the assistance of the da Vinci Surgical System, a sophisticated robotic device. Procedures performed with the da Vinci system are done through four to five fingertip-size ports on the side of the chest.

Only select hospitals offer robotic surgery for cardiac conditions. The director of our robotic and minimally invasive cardiac program, Husam H. Balkhy, MD, is a world-renowned expert in this highly advanced technique and has performed hundreds of robotic procedures with excellent outcomes. Currently, our team offers mitral and tricuspid valve repair using the surgical robot.

Minimally invasive surgeries, including robot-assisted procedures, have many benefits, including the following:

  • Faster recovery and a quicker return to normal activities
  • Less time spent in the hospital
  • Small incisions that result in little to no scarring. Depending upon the type of minimally invasive technique, incisions may be four to five dime-size slits or a 3- to 5-inch incision at the side of the chest.
  • Quicker resolution of pain, with many patients able to control pain after discharge with Tylenol or other over-the-counter pain medicines

Because the breastbone (sternum) remains intact, patients avoid the risk for infection and other complications associated with cutting it (sternotomy) that may occur with traditional open-chest procedures.

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Structural Heart Disease