Post-Surgery Care

Man wearing Heart Hugger, walking up stairs.

Following Thoracic Surgery

During the surgery, your family will wait in the lounge and the surgeon will speak with the family once the surgery is over. Once the surgery is complete, you will be taken to the ICU to recover where you will be closely monitored. After your vital signs show stability, your family will be allowed to visit briefly. This visit may be difficult to recall later if you are sleepy or groggy after surgery. After a bit, you will slowly begin to become more clear and awake. At this point, you may become more aware of the tubes and wires. These are all the necessary tools to keep you healthy and help the team take care of you.

Going Home After Surgery

Thoracic surgery is a big deal, and it requires special care during and after your time at the hospital. As you return home and begin to acclimate to your life again, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

  • Use common sense in planning physical activities
  • Listen to your body. When you are tired--rest!
  • Set small, achievable goals and congratulate yourself when you attain them
  • Be realistic about your current abilities
  • Remember that you are not alone

Progress After Surgery

The most important thing to remember after surgery is to be patient with yourself. Progress can take time and is gradual as your body heals from this major surgery. Most patients stay in the ICU after surgery for a day or two. During that time, they are allowed to begin some small physical activities and are eventually moved to the telemetry unit.

Nurses will help monitor progress as the days pass. You will start with small tasks such as coughing and deep breathing, eating, getting out of bed, and walking. These tasks are made more comfortable with the help of Heart Hugger Sternum Support Harness. As each day passes, the tasks should get increasingly easier to manage.

As activity increases, patients often feel pain or discomfort around the incision from spreading the breastbone and muscles during surgery. The Heart Hugger helps as the healing process continues and gives patients the support they need as they undergo recovery.


It’s important to follow the directions for your medications carefully. Before you are discharged from the hospital, your doctor will evaluate you and prescribe the right meds for you to take home. It is important to not mix or stop medications without first discussing with your physician.

Common Symptoms After Surgery

After thoracic surgery, there are some common symptoms patients deal with, including:

  • Clicking or rubbing of the breastbone during movement or breathing (which can be minimized with the use of the Heart Hugger)
  • Incision-site swelling
  • Aches around your shoulder blades, ribs, neck, chest or leg incisions
  • Slight swelling of the legs
  • Weakness and hoarseness of the voice from the breathing tube
  • Constipation
  • Difficulties sleeping from physical and mental changes. Try to determine what may be causing your sleep problems and talk to a doctor to find solutions
  • Numbness or soreness on the side of your chest

For most patients, these symptoms are temporary and fade within a few weeks of surgery.

Reasons to Call Your Doctor

Some symptoms can be indicative of serious post-surgery issues. If you notice any of the following symptoms, contact a doctor or nurse right away:

  • Heart rate greater than 120 beats per minute when you are at rest or palpitations change your heartbeat from regular to irregular suddenly
  • Increased fatigue or shortness of breath during rest
  • A temperature of more than 101 degrees or chills for more than 24 hours
  • Excessive swelling or redness around the wound
  • Swelling in ankles or hands with a weight gain of two or more pounds in a day
  • Abnormal pain not responsive to medication
  • Pain in your calf

Pain Management

Heart Hugger will help you manage pain as you cough, sneeze, move, or practice your breathing exercises. Your respiratory therapist will help you work to expand your lungs and exhale the vapor that settled in your lungs during surgery to prevent pneumonia and other complications. While coughing can be painful, it’s important to expel phlegm and fluids. Heart Hugger helps make the process of coughing and breathing less painful during this time and helps protect the wires holding your sternum together as well as your incision site.

Incision Care

Taking proper care of your incision is important to ward off infection. As you heal, the incision will look better and soreness will fade. To keep your incision healing well:

  • Watch the wound carefully and call your doctor if redness, oozing, or opening begins to appear
  • If you are a woman, wear a comfortable bra, or better yet, the Surgi Support Vest to reduce tension on the incision. The Surgi Support also immobilizes breast tissue to reduce tugging and pain.


As you recover from this major surgery, don’t forget that taking it slow and taking good care of yourself is vital. Don’t overdo things and be patient as you work your way through this process. Heart Hugger will offer comfort and support to help keep you steady as you work on your breathing, but be sure you have the needed emotional support as well.

To discuss sternal support options,