Interviewing a heart surgeon. Did you ever think that would be on your new parent to-do list?? Finding the right surgeon can be overwhelming and, honestly, somewhat intimidating. Here’s one thing you need to know though: you have the opportunity to interview potential surgeons for your child. Now, in emergency situations this may not always be feasible. But, if your child has been diagnosed prenatally then it’s definitely a possibility. Your child’s cardiologist will recommend a surgeon (or two) and you can do a little research yourself on other surgeons who may be a good fit. Interviewing your child’s surgeon has two benefits: 1) You may gain a little more peace knowing you’ve found an experienced and confident doctor for the job and 2) You will be a little more prepared on what to expect on surgery day.

Here’s our full list of questions to start out with if you need a little help brainstorming what to ask. Out of that list there are 3 questions I felt were most important.

3 important questions to ask when interviewing your child’s heart surgeon:

1. How often do you perform my child’s particular surgery procedure?

Numbers are important here. The more often you practice a skill, the better you are at performing it, right? I want a surgeon who performs my child’s surgery so often he considers it part of his routine. Surgeons who see a high volume of cases will be more familiar with common complications. They will foresee problems in the OR before they get out of hand. Another good follow up question to this one would be: “Would you consider that a high volume of cases for this procedure?”As you know, more complex cases are more rare. Therefore, more complex repairs will be performed less often than simple procedures. So, if your surgeon says they perform only 10 of these surgeries a year ask if that is considered a “high” volume nationwide.

2. What are your outcomes for this surgery?

This is a hard one. No one wants to talk about complications or fatalities when it comes to their child, but it’s important to know the statistics. What are the survival rates in the short and long term? How do those numbers compare to national averages? If the surgeon you are interviewing falls far below national averages, or is unwilling to share this data, then that would be a definite red flag. You can look up any publicly published data on particular hospitals and surgeons on the Society for Thoracic Surgeon’s CHD Database.

3. What can we expect right after surgery?

Newborn baby just a few hours after heart surgeon finished his surgery.
Calvin 7 days old, just a few hours after his Norwood procedure.

Often children will need support from a breathing tube (ventilator) for several hours or days after surgery. For newborns or young infants sometimes the chest may need to be left open (covered with medical drape) for a short period. This allows swelling to go down before closing their small chest cavity. In rare cases, a child may come back from surgery on ECMO, a special life support that allows the heart to rest and heal after surgery. It’s good to know how your child may look after surgery to prepare yourself for that first glimpse during recovery.

So, there’s 3 important questions and a short list of recommended questions here to get you started on interviewing your child’s heart surgeon like a pro!

Have other great questions in mind to ask your surgeon? Tell us in the comments!